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Macular zeaxanthins and lutein – a review of dietary sources and bioavailability and some relationships with macular pigment optical density and age-related macular disease

  • David I. Thurnham (a1)


The retina is unique in the human body in containing three xanthophyll carotenoids; 3R,3′R-zeaxanthin, meso-zeaxanthin (MZ) and lutein. Humans consume 1 to 3 mg lutein per d and the lutein:zeaxanthin ratio in the diet is about 5:1.Xanthophyll pigments occur widely in vegetables and fruits but MZ is found in only a few foods such as the shrimp carapace and fish skin. In spite of the amounts of the different xanthophylls in the diet, zeaxanthin and MZ occur in approximately equal amounts in the eye, and their combined concentration can exceed that of lutein. In the present review the bioavailablity of zeaxanthin and lutein is assessed using the plasma xanthophyll response to dietary intervention. A number of studies have used single and mixed sources of the pure xanthophylls to achieve steady-state plasma responses. Mostly these have been with lutein and zeaxanthin but two using MZ are also described. Responses following the intervention with the pure xanthophylls are compared with those following food intervention. Vegetables are the richest source of dietary lutein and several vegetable-feeding studies are discussed. Intervention studies with eggs, which are a good source of zeaxanthin, suggest that the xanthophyll carotenoids in egg yolk may be more bioavailable than those in other foods and are described separately. MZ has been a component of a xanthophyll supplement added to chicken feed in Mexico in the last 10 years. Egg consumption in Mexico is approximately one egg/person per d and the potential contribution of this food source of MZ to Mexican dietary intakes is described. Very limited information from human feeding studies of MZ-containing supplements suggests that MZ is less well absorbed than zeaxanthin. However, MZ is unusual in the diet and not reported in the plasma. Thus plasma responses may not reflect true absorption if it takes MZ longer to equilibrate with body tissues than the other xanthophylls and competition with zeaxanthin may lower the relative concentrations of MZ in plasma. Lastly, the effects of long-term feeding with both pure and food sources of the xanthophyll pigments on macular pigment optical density is compared and the importance of previous dietary intake on the effects of intervention is discussed.

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Corresponding author

*Corresponding author: Professor D. I. Thurnham, fax +44 2870 324965,


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Macular zeaxanthins and lutein – a review of dietary sources and bioavailability and some relationships with macular pigment optical density and age-related macular disease

  • David I. Thurnham (a1)


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