Lutein is a xanthophyll found in high concentrations in dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale. Xanthophylls are oxidised carotenoids, and like carotenoids, they may have antioxidant effects in animals. Carotenoids and xanthophylls are found mainly in foods of plant original and those with the highest intake of fruits and vegetables tend to have the highest intakes of phytonutrients including carotenoids and xanthophylls. Oxidative stress is a condition whereby free radicals, generated by metabolic by-products or of environmental origin, overwhelms cellular antioxidant defences and this leads to tissue damage and a deterioration in health. Oxidative stress is associated with a number of diseases including cardiovascular disease. Dietary antioxidant such as xanthophylls can protect from disease because of their ability to reduce free radical propagation, which in turn limits oxidative stress and protects tissue damage. Lutein may therefore have particular health benefits because of its antioxidant effects in humans.
Epidemiological studies have observed associations between lutein intake and health. In particular, there exists an inverse association between lutein and cardiovascular disease. For example, one study investigating the protective effects of lutein on cardiovascular disease. This review included 71 studies involving over 380,000 individuals. The results of the review showed that there were significant reductions in the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke for those with the highest intake of lutein, compared to those with the lowest intake. Those with the highest intake of lutein also had the lowest intake of metabolic syndrome. Other studies have shown that dietary antioxidants from plants, including carotenoids and xanthophylls, are protective of the development of insulin resistance, a primary driver of metabolic syndrome. As metabolic syndrome is a risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease, lutein may protect from cardiovascular disease because of its protective antioxidant effects.
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