Interviewer: Doctor, start by just explaining what Lutein is.
Dr. Stringham: OK. Lutein is a substance in the class of Carotenoids. So they're naturally occurring substances found within primarily vegetables and fruits. They're pigments that give vegetables and fruits their color. You may have heard of beta-carotene, that's a Carotenoid and it's orange, it's an orange pigment. Lycopene in tomatos is a red pigment. Lutein is yellow and is found in leafy green vegetables primarily, some other colored fruits and vegetables. It's a major anti-oxidant and so this is one of its many functions. The body doesn't make it, doesn't synthesize it, you have to obtain it from your diet.
Interviewer: Explain a little bit more what carotenoids are and why do we always associate them with eye health?
Dr. Stringham: Well, that's a good question and the answer is fairly obvious because Lutein, this eye health is what drove the initial research into Lutein. It was shown in epidemiological research about 20-25 years ago that those folks that ingested more Lutein over the lifespan, you know, ate collard greens, spinach, just generally leafy green vegetables throughout their lives, had a reduced risk for developing macular degeneration. That was a significant finding, not just one of these small things, but if you ate a lot of Lutein, you had more benefit, it's a linear effect. As we go forward, into the future with that, more like 15 years ago, there have been supplementation trials, myself included, that show if you had early stage macular degeneration and you supplemented Lutein, started taking a lot, an equivalent of maybe four bowls of spinach a day, you could stop the progression of it. And folks on a placebo would keep progressing toward poorer vision, so we had to pull the plug on our study because it's not ethical to degenerate anymore and so we started giving them Lutein. There's some pretty slam dunk evidence that Lutein certainly protects and can slow the progression of macular degeneration.
Interviewer: Explain what that is, if you will, and if somebody has it, what are they seeing? What's happening within the eye?
Dr. Stringham: Well, macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in western society in those over the age of 65. Of course this is a big deal with the baby boomer generation, in that bracket, millions and millions of people that could be afflicted. Macular degeneration affects the macula, the central part of your vision. So when you look right at something, somebody's face, that's where the macula is. So as you can imagine if that part of the retina degenerates, you're losing that central vision. It's extremely frustrating, you've got peripheral vision, generally speaking, but when you go to look at somebody, to recognize them, certainly you can't drive a car, it's hard to read, those kinds of things, so it's a big concern. It's reflective of cumulative damage over the lifespan of oxidation basically in the retina. That high metabolic area. The take home message is if you got Lutein in that area, it can quench the free radicals over your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and you don't have that cumulative damage and therefore you have reduced risk.