Predictors of optical density of lutein and zeaxanthin in retinas of older women in the Carotenoids in Age-Related Eye Disease Study, an ancillary study of the Women's Health Initiative

Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Nov;84(5):1107-22. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/84.5.1107.


Background: Lifestyle, diet, and physical and health predictors of xanthophyll carotenoids in the retina are poorly understood.

Objective: We aimed to investigate the predictors of the density of lutein and zeaxanthin in the macula of the retina.

Design: Macular pigment optical density (MPOD) was measured by heterochromatic flicker photometry. Relations to dietary lutein and zeaxanthin and to other predictors were measured in 1698 women aged 53-86 y. The women were members of observational study cohorts of the Women's Health Initiative at Iowa City, IA, Madison, WI, or Portland, OR, and participated in the Carotenoids in Age-Related Eye Disease Study (2001-2004).

Results: MPOD at 0.5 degrees from the foveal center was 30% higher in women in the highest quintile for lutein and zeaxanthin intake [x (+/-SD): 0.40 +/- 0.21] than in women in the lowest quintile (0.31 +/- 0.21) and 20% higher after adjustment for other predictors. Dietary intake of lutein, zeaxanthin, fiber, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (% of energy) together explained 3% of the variability in MPOD. Higher waist circumference and diabetes, which are related to lower MPOD, together with study site explained an additional 5% of variation. The total explained variability increased to 12% when lutein and zexanthin concentrations obtained from the serum, which were collected 4-7 y earlier, were added to the model.

Conclusions: MPOD is directly related to dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin but even more strongly to serum concentrations, which may reflect unmeasured physical and medical factors that influence the uptake, distribution, and utilization of lutein and zeaxanthin. Higher abdominal body fat and diabetes are related to lower MPOD. Unknown predictors of retinal carotenoids remain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Diet*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lutein / administration & dosage
  • Lutein / analysis*
  • Lutein / blood
  • Macula Lutea / chemistry*
  • Macular Degeneration / prevention & control*
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retina / chemistry
  • United States
  • Women's Health*
  • Xanthophylls / administration & dosage
  • Xanthophylls / analysis*
  • Xanthophylls / blood
  • Zeaxanthins


  • Xanthophylls
  • Zeaxanthins
  • Lutein