Keeping an Eye on Lutein

December 20, 2006

2 Min Read
Keeping an Eye on Lutein

As designers contemplate the potential components of functional foods and beverages, many ingredients with proven health benefits typically make the short list. When it comes to products targeted toward eye health, the carotenoid lutein hits the top of that list every time.

Clinical clout 

Lutein and zeaxanthin concentrate in the retina’s macula. Research shows increased intake of lutein—including free and esterified forms extracted from marigolds or lutein from natural sources, such as eggs—helps reduce the risk of eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

“During digestion, the body breaks apart the lutein esters and lutein is released,” says Rob Bailey, regional marketing manager, Cognis Nutrition & Health, LaGrange, IL. “The lutein is then absorbed into the blood. Once absorbed into the bloodstream, the body cannot tell the difference between the sources of lutein.”

One study has shown lutein esters to be a more bio-available source of lutein, while another has found no difference between free lutein and lutein esters; ongoing studies are underway to clarify this issue. Although lutein esters require the aid of digestive enzymes to release lutein into the body, free lutein does not require conversion and is immediately absorbed into the body. Both ingredient types are available for fortifying foods and beverages.

Several studies have illustrated the beneficial effects of lutein. One study demonstrated that people in the early stages of AMD can accumulate lutein in the macula (Experimental Eye Research). Research has also shown that lutein can control free radicals that damage skin. Higher levels of lutein in the blood might also help reduce arterial wall thickening, thereby helping reduce the risk of atherosclerosis.

Eyeing the market 

Lutein and lutein esters add antioxidant capabilities to a wide range of applications. “Lutein is GRAS for a broad range of foods and beverages, including cereals, meal-replacement bars, beverages and powdered beverages, margarines, salad dressings, baked goods and baking mixes, oils, egg substitutes, yogurts, milk products, fruit snacks, hard candies, cough drops, soy products, and processed fruit and vegetables,” says Bailey. He recommends a level of 2 to 4 mg of lutein esters in a single-serving meal-replacement bar and 2 mg per serving in cereal, yogurt or bread. The company offers three lutein-ester ingredients for foods: oils with 15% or 30% lutein esters for oil-based foods and gelatin-free beadlets with 10% luten esters for dry foods.

Manufacturers might consider including both lutein and zeaxanthin in products specifically targeted toward eye health. “The need for lutein has been advertised heavily; the need for zeaxanthin has not. Yet both are needed,” suggests Robert Berman, senior marketing manager, DSM Nutritional Products, Parsippany NJ (Aug. 1, 2006, Health Strategy Consulting interview). The company recommends a 5:1 ratio of lutein to zeaxanthin.

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