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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

The role of the carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, in protecting against age-related macular degeneration: A review based on controversial evidence

Maneli Mozaffarieh, Stefan Sacu and Andreas Wedrich*

Author affiliations

Department of Ophthalmology, University of Vienna, Austria

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Citation and License

Nutrition Journal 2003, 2:20  doi:10.1186/1475-2891-2-20

Published: 11 December 2003

Abstract

Purpose

A review of the role of the carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, and their function in altering the pathogenesis of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Methods

Medline and Embase search.

Results

Recent evidence introduces the possibility that lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids found in a variety of fruits and vegetables may protect against the common eye disease of macular degeneration. This potential and the lack to slow the progression of macular degeneration, has fueled high public interest in the health benefits of these carotenoids and prompted their inclusion in various supplements. The body of evidence supporting a role in this disease ranges from basic studies in experimental animals to various other clinical and epidemiological studies. Whilst some epidemiological studies suggest a beneficial role for carotenoids in the prevention of AMD, others are found to be unrelated to it. Results of some clinical studies indicate that the risk for AMD is reduced when levels of the carotenoids are elevated in the serum or diet, but this correlation is not observed in other studies. Published data concerning the toxicity of the carotenoids or the optimum dosage of these supplements is lacking.

Conclusion

An intake of dietary supplied nutrients rich in the carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, appears to be beneficial in protecting retinal tissues, but this is not proven. Until scientifically sound knowledge is available we recommend for patients judged to be at risk for AMD to: alter their diet to more dark green leafy vegetables, wear UV protective lenses and a hat when outdoors. Future investigations on the role of nutrition, light exposure, genetics, and combinations of photodynamic therapy with intravitreal steroid (triamcinolone-acetonide) injections hold potential for future treatment possibilities.

Keywords:
age-related macular degeneration (AMD); carotenoids; vitamin supplements