The body of evidence to support a protective role for lutein and zeaxanthin in delaying chronic disease. Overview

J Nutr. 2002 Mar;132(3):518S-524S. doi: 10.1093/jn/132.3.518S.


Recent evidence introduces the possibility that lutein and zeaxanthin may protect against the development of the two common eye diseases of aging, cataract and macular degeneration. This potential and the lack of other effective means to slow the progression of macular degeneration have fueled high public interest in the health benefits of lutein and zeaxanthin and the proliferation of supplements containing them on pharmacy shelves. An understanding of the biologic consequences of limiting or supplementing with these carotenoids is only beginning to emerge. Some epidemiologic evidence supports a role in eye disease and, to a lesser extent, cancer and cardiovascular disease. However, the overall body of evidence is insufficient to conclude that increasing levels of lutein and zeaxanthin, specifically, will confer an important health benefit. Future advances in scientific research are required to gain a better understanding of the biologic mechanisms of their possible role in preventing disease. Additional research is also required to understand the effect of their consumption, independent of other nutrients in fruits and vegetables, on human health. The newly advanced ability to measure levels of lutein and zeaxanthin in the retina in vivo creates a unique opportunity to contribute some of this needed evidence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging*
  • Cataract / prevention & control
  • Chronic Disease*
  • Fruit
  • Heart Diseases / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Lutein / analysis
  • Lutein / therapeutic use*
  • Macular Degeneration / prevention & control
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Stroke / prevention & control
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Vegetables
  • Xanthophylls
  • Zeaxanthins
  • beta Carotene / analogs & derivatives
  • beta Carotene / analysis
  • beta Carotene / therapeutic use*


  • Xanthophylls
  • Zeaxanthins
  • beta Carotene
  • Lutein