Purpose: Once deposited in the retina, the so-called macular carotenoids lutein (L), zeaxanthin (Z), and mesozeaxanthin (MZ) have been shown to enhance visual performance. The purpose of our study was to investigate whether increasing macular pigment optical density (MPOD) could enhance lateral inhibitory processes, and thereby improve contrast sensitivity (CS).
Methods: A total of 59 young (18-25 years), healthy individuals participated in this 1-year, double-masked, placebo-controlled study. MPOD was assessed via heterochromatic flicker photometry. Lateral inhibition sensitivity (LIS) was determined with a computer-based, user-adjustable Hermann grid. CS (at 8 cycles/degree) was determined with a two-alternative, forced-choice procedure. Subjects received either the placebo (n = 10), 12 mg total macular carotenoids (n = 24), or 24 mg total macular carotenoids (n = 25).
Results: MPOD, LIS, and CS increased significantly in treatment groups between baseline and 6 months, and between 6 and 12 months (P < 0.05 for all) versus placebo. The relationships between changes in MPOD and both LIS and CS were significant at 6 and 12 months (P < 0.05 for both). Changes in CS and LIS over the 12-month study period were found to be significantly related (r = 0.41; P = 0.0014).
Conclusions: Increases in MPOD led to enhanced lateral inhibitory processes, which correspond to improved CS. Because optical filtering has the same net effect on dark versus light bars, it cannot explain these improvements. Improvement in CS with increases in MPOD therefore appears to involve enhancement of the fundamental physiological systems that give rise to edge detection.