Lutein and zeaxanthin are compounds called xanthophylls (ZAN-thuh-fills), which are yellow pigments that occur naturally in many plants and vegetables. Xanthophylls belong to a class of organic compounds called carotenoids, which also includes orange and red plant pigments. Though lutein is considered a yellow pigment, in high concentrations it appears orange-red.
In nature, lutein and zeaxanthin appear to absorb excess light energy to prevent damage to plants from too much sunlight, especially from high-energy light rays called blue light.
Cooked spinach is one of the best natural food sources of lutein and zeaxanthin.
Recent research has discovered a third xanthophyll in the macula. Called meso-zeaxanthin, this carotenoid is not found in food sources and appears to be created in the retina from ingested lutein.
Lutein and zeaxanthin appear to have important vitamin E, these xanthophylls guard the body from damaging effects of free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can destroy cells and play a role in many diseases.
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