What is it, and do I need it?
The Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) was a 5 year study published in 2013. Notably, in this second study, was the addition of two carotenoids as part of the supplement group. The carotenoids are lutein and zeaxanthin. The conclusion of the study was that these two carotenoids helped limit the progression of AMD. Lutein and zeaxanthin are concentrated in the macula of the retina where they provide protection, by the absorption of light and anti-oxidant activity, and thereby aid in the function of the macula.
Studies have shown that it is not just lutein and zeaxanthin that provide support to the retina, but there is a third carotenoid, meso-zeaxanthin that needs to be present for optimum anti-oxidant effect.
Scientists indicate that meso-zeaxanthin is made from lutein. The question arises; have you ingested enough lutein and is it converted to the meso-zeaxanthin form in sufficient amounts to make enough macular pigment to provide protection to the macula?
Although it is thought that some of the meso-zeaxanthin is derived from lutein, the rest needs to be derived from foods. Food sources are fruits, vegetables (green and yellow), whole grains, egg yolks, and fatty fish (Rainbow trout and salmon, especially the skin). We can never be really sure how much of the vital carotenoids we are getting, even from what we think is a nutritious diet. In an age where our foods are produced by farm “factories” and may be genetically modified, the nutritional value may not be what we expect. That is where supplementation becomes important for those with critical needs to maintain ocular and general health. Supplementing the diet directly with MZ (safely) can prevent the macula from becoming deficient.
Biochemistry is complicated. The AREDS2 found that the beta-carotene had the capability of competing with, and therefore decreasing the absorption of lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin. So do not take them together. (Note; AREDS supplement formula has beta-carotene, whereas AREDS2 does not have beta-carotene, but does have lutein and zeaxanthin).
Studies have shown that there is a drop in macular pigment decades before the onset of macular degeneration. There is a bonus to supplementing with the carotenoids; multiple studies have found that test subjects who supplemented with carotenoids not only increased macular pigment, but also experienced improved cognitive function. Even young college students in one study benefited from carotenoid supplements. The trend is that eye doctors are now recommending to their patients who have macular degeneration and those at risk for developing MD, supplements which include lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin.
Be aware, when shopping for eye vitamins, the most popular AREDS and AREDS2 formulass do not include meso-zeaxanthin.