Jerry Hickey is a pharmacist and radio personality and fills the esteemed role of Scientific Director and President of Invite Health. He has spent his professional life analyzing nutritional information and medical studies with the aim of creating the highest quality and most natural nutraceuticals for user’s maximum health benefits. Here, Jerry speaks about the benefits of Lutein…
Lutein is a pigment in fruit, mostly. It’s a carotenoid, and it’s been shown to have real beneficial effects for vision. It also protects the brain. Anything that protects the brain, generally, protects the eyes and vice versa because the eyes are connected to the brain. Your eyes put the brain in touch with the world. So, there’s been a number of studies showing that lutein is great for the eyes and there’s been two or three studies now showing that lutein is great for the brain also. For instance, when they gave older women DHA (which can be found in fish oil) in addition to lutein, their memory improved. They literally had an improvement in memory functions. It was easier for them to read and spell and remember things. But this study is all about vision and they found that when they gave participants lutein, it improved their driving and their vision at night. They tested the lutein on daytime vision, on low-light vision and on nighttime vision, and it absolutely improved their nighttime vision.
I’ll explain how that works: you have this shield in the back of your eyes called your macular tissue and it shields the eyes from the harmful blue light. Blue light is very unstable. It’s a spectrum of light that’s unstable and it burns back to the eye. So, you have a shield, or a little filter, in the middle of your retina. That filters out the blue light so that your retina can heal and maintain itself for good vision. In your retina you have rods and cones. Your cones are used in the daytime. When it’s low-level light, you’re switching from your cones to your rods and you start to have the center of your eyeball dilate or become larger. But at night, you use both the rods and the cones. It turns out that the lutein shields both the rods and the cones and it’s easier to see at night and you have fewer problems with glare. So, that was a very interesting study. They gave participants 20 mg a day, and it helped these people drive at night. Things like oncoming headlights and rain didn’t bother them. It was easier for them to see simply by taking lutein. It was 20 mg of lutein, given to 130 people in a yearlong study.
Lutein is a carotenoid that protects the eyes. We know that lutein is magnificent for night vision. In fact, we just read a study recently. When they gave people daily supplements of lutein, it improved their nighttime vision. It was easier to drive in the rain. Glare from headlights wasn’t bothering them as much. There was a significant improvement. Now, these people are all professional drivers, driving basically 10 hours a day.
So, we know that lutein protects the eyes, but there has been several studies now showing that if you lack lutein, you’re more prone to brain degeneration, nerve cell death in the brain, loss of memory with age, loss of your capacity for planning and understanding things and solving things and doing math, such as figuring out your change in the supermarket.
A new Harvard study shows that people who lack lutein have a high risk for ALS, a terrible brain disease. They did this wonderful study in aging women. One of the things that comes out of fish oil is called DHA. Fish oil has two extremely important components: EPA and DHA. DHA is important for the eyes and it’s important for the memory portion of the brain and it’s important for your nervous tissue and also keeping depression at bay.
You can get DHA with Krill Oil or fish oils or DHA supplements specifically. When they gave participants DHA with lutein supplements, they had better verbal recall and better memory. They could solve things better. Their brain was becoming more efficient. They were getting back some of their memory skills that they had lost with aging. It was improving their memory. Not only that, but it also slowed down their loss of memory. So this Harvard study highlighted that if you lack lutein, you can have this horrible, rotting, degenerative disease of the brain. So, lutein obviously is important for the brain. Beta carotene is very essential for the brain.
You know, there was this terrible, stupid study years ago that doctors quote once in a while inappropriately and incorrectly, showing that they don’t understand nutrition. In this stupid study, when they gave people synthetic beta carotene, it caused damage to smoker’s lungs. Synthetic beta carotene blocks real beta carotene from getting to the lung and then beta carotene cannot protect it. Beta carotene is not dangerous with smoking. In fact, it may protect your eyeballs, because smoking can cause cataracts and macular degeneration. But there have been many huge studies in the past year or two where beta carotene is shown to strongly cut down the risk of cancer, risk of heart attack and risk of brain diseases. It’s a very, very essential nutrient. Beta carotene is absolutely imperative to keep in the body, and that’s one reason why vegetarians are healthy; they're getting massive amounts of beta carotene.