The aim of the present study was to evaluate the effects of lutein and lycopene supplementation on carotid artery intima–media thickness (CAIMT) in subjects with subclinical atherosclerosis. A total of 144 subjects aged 45–68 years were recruited from local communities. All the subjects were randomly assigned to receive 20 mg lutein/d (n 48), 20 mg lutein/d+20 mg lycopene/d (n 48) or placebo (n 48) for 12 months. CAIMT was measured using Doppler ultrasonography at baseline and after 12 months, and serum lutein and lycopene concentrations were determined using HPLC. Serum lutein concentrations increased significantly from 0·34 to 1·96 μmol/l in the lutein group (P< 0·001) and from 0·35 to 1·66 μmol/l in the combination group (P< 0·001). Similarly, serum lycopene concentrations increased significantly from 0·18 to 0·71 μmol/l in the combination group at month 12 (P< 0·001), whereas no significant change was observed in the placebo group. The mean values of CAIMT decreased significantly by 0·035 mm (P= 0·042) and 0·073 mm (P< 0·001) in the lutein and combination groups at month 12, respectively. The change in CAIMT was inversely associated with the increase in serum lutein concentrations (P< 0·05) in both the active treatment groups and with that in serum lycopene concentrations (β = − 0·342, P= 0·031) in the combination group. Lutein and lycopene supplementation significantly increased the serum concentrations of lutein and lycopene with a decrease in CAIMT being associated with both concentrations. In addition, the combination of lutein and lycopene supplementation was more effective than lutein alone for protection against the development of CAIMT in Chinese subjects with subclinical atherosclerosis, and further studies are needed to confirm whether synergistic effects of lutein and lycopene exist.