Lutein belongs to a family of nutrients called carotenoids. Carotenoids are pigments that color our foods with yellows, reds and oranges. These pigments are often called phyto- (plant) nutrients and are found in plants and plant foods like fruits and vegetables.
A nutrient that is often found with lutein is zeaxanthin. Often thought of as lutein’s little sister since it is chemically similar, zeaxanthin is so much more, having a unique function all its own. It is most often found in the same foods as lutein and works with lutein in the body.
Lutein and zeaxanthin’s primary role in the body is to protect against oxidative stress. Lutein and zeaxanthin are also thought to play a structural role in the eye.
How important to our health are lutein and zeaxanthin? Consider a few facts:
- Of the more than 600 carotenoids found in nature, lutein and zeaxanthin are the only ones found in the eye.
- Lutein is also the major carotenoid found in breast milk.
- Lutein and zeaxanthin represent 75 percent of the carotenoids in our brains.