Background: Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease with multiple risk factors, many of which appear to involve oxidative stress. Macular pigment, with its antioxidant and light-screening properties, is thought to be protective against AMD. A result has been the appearance of dietary supplements containing the macular carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin. More recently, a supplement has been marketed containing, in addition, the third major carotenoid of the macular pigment, meso-zeaxanthin. The purpose of the study was to determine the effectiveness of such a supplement in raising macular pigment density in human subjects.
Methods: A 120 day supplementation study was conducted in which 10 subjects were given gel-caps that provided 20 mg/day of predominantly meso-zeaxanthin, with smaller amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin. A second group of 9 subjects were given gel caps containing a placebo for the same 120 day period. Prior to and during the supplementation period, blood serum samples were analyzed by high performance liquid chromatography for carotenoid content. Similarly, macular pigment optical density was measured by heterochromatic flicker photometry. Differences in response between the supplementation and placebo groups were tested for significance using a student's t-test.
Results: During supplementation with the carotenoids, blood samples revealed the presence of all three carotenoids. Macular pigment optical density, measured at 460 nm, rose at an average rate of 0.59 +/- 0.79 milli-absorbance unit/day in the 10 supplemented subjects. This was significantly different from the placebo group (9 subjects) for whom the average rate was -0.17 +/- 0.42 milli-absorbance units/day.
Conclusion: We have shown for the first time that meso-zeaxanthin is absorbed into the serum following ingestion. The data indicate that a supplement containing predominantly meso-zeaxanthin is generally effective at raising macular pigment density, and may turn out to be a useful addition to the defenses against AMD.