Zeaxanthin is a carotenoid alcohol commonly found in nature. It plays an important role in the xanthophyll cycle, which is an essential process for photosynthesizing plants. Zeaxanthin is primarily synthesized by plants, although some micro-organisms also produce it.
The name “zeaxanthin” is a combination of the root words “zea” and “xanthos.” Zea is the Greek word for grain and is also the taxonomic genus that includes corn. Zanthos is the Greek word for yellow, referring to zeaxanthin’s color.
The best dietary sources of zeaxanthin are generally leafy, green vegetables such as collard greens, kale, spinach, romaine lettuce, Swiss chard, and turnip greens. Additional common vegetables that contain a high level of zeaxanthin include goji berries, broccoli, corn, kiwifruit, peas, and zucchini. Zeaxanthin is also found in other foods like eggs and spirulina.
The main use of zeaxanthin in plants is for pigmentation, especially in fruits. Zeaxanthin is yellow in low concentrations, with higher concentrations producing a dark red. Plants that get their characteristic color from zeaxanthin include bell peppers, corn, goji berries, and saffron. Zanthophylls like zeaxanthin help modulate the process of photosynthesis when the plant is exposed to excessive sunlight. High levels of sunlight can produce triplet chlorophyll, which is an excited form of chlorophyll that can harm plants.
The primary reason for taking zeaxanthin as a health supplement is the support of eye health. Zeaxanthin is the primary component in the central macula, which is a pigmented area in human eyes near the center of the retina. The most common form of zeaxanthin in the macula is (3R,3'R)-zeaxanthin.
Many scientific studies show that zeaxanthin is essential for supporting the normal function of the eye, especially in the presence of age-related conditions.
Zeaxanthin is an essential component of the macula, where it helps to filter out blue light from the sun. This light has a high energy level, which can damage the eyes. Humans can’t biosynthesize zeaxanthin, so they must obtain it through dietary sources and supplements.
The macula often degenerates with age in a process known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Zeaxanthin supplements may help to support the macula, especially in the elderly.
The lenses in the eye must remain clear to collect light and focus it on the retina. Oxidation of the lens often occurs over time, which can make the lenses cloudy. Zeaxanthin has antioxidant properties that may help keep the lenses clear in the presence of free radicals.
A dietary deficiency of zeaxanthin is rare, so you are most likely to need zeaxanthin supplements if you have difficulty metabolizing zeaxanthin. This is most likely to occur under conditions of oxidative stress such as poor nutrition or heavy smoking. The quantity of zeaxanthin in the macula can be measured as the macular pigment optical density (MPOD). A low MPOD may therefore indicate the need for zeaxanthin supplements, especially if you are over the age of 60 years.
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