Phytochemicals are potent antioxidant compounds found in plants that help prevent and treat disease in humans. Both lutein and astaxanthin are phytochemicals that belong to a group of substances called carotenoids, which includes lycopene, beta-carotene and zeaxanthin. Lutein and astaxanthin are both found naturally in certain foods and sold as dietary supplements for a variety of similar and separate health-promoting purposes. As always, talk to your healthcare practitioner before taking lutein or astaxanthin supplements.
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Lutein is found naturally in foods such as egg yolks, corn, kale, spinach, winter squash, cruciferous vegetables, green beans, and yellow/orange fruits. Lutein is a potent antioxidant, which helps prevent free radical induced damage to your cells and DNA. Preliminary research suggests that lutein, combined with other antioxidants such as vitamins A, E and zeaxanthin, may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia in the elderly.
Lutein is perhaps most well known for its ability to support eye health and enhance eye acuity, and it is purported to help prevent and treat cataracts and macular degeneration. According to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, lutein is also used to help prevent and treat cancer. It is thought to be particularly beneficial for the prevention and treatment of bladder and colon cancer, as well as renal cell carcinoma. Lutein is also said to promote cardiovascular health and prevent heart disease; increase bone mass in perimenopausal women; and prevent and treat atherosclerosis. More research is needed to confirm the efficacy of lutein for these purposes, however.
Astaxanthin comes from Haematococcus pluvialis, which is a type of dark red microalgae. Astaxanthin supplements are manufactured from the microalgae. Due to the fact that crustacean sea animals eat the Haematococcus algae, astaxanthin is also found naturally in crustacean seafood, and it is the phytochemical that is responsible for the pink-red pigmentation of salmon and shrimp. Astaxanthin is a potent antioxidant, and it is considered to be 100 times more effective then vitamin E in preventing free radical-induced damage in the body’s cells and DNA. In addition, astaxanthin appears to work synergistically with other antioxidants and helps enhance their activity and effectiveness.
Astaxanthin is sometimes referred to as “nature’s sunscreen” because the carotenoids in it help protect against UVA damage caused by the sun. Similar to lutein, astaxanthin is purported to help prevent and treat atherosclerosis, cancer, cataracts and eye damage. Additional purported uses for astaxanthin supplements include increased strength and endurance, lower high blood pressure, reduced the risk for stroke, protection against damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed progression of diabetes, and reduced stress. It also helps gastric ulcers and carpal tunnel syndrome, according to website Vitamins & Health Supplements Guide. These uses are based primarily on anecdotal and not scientific evidence, however, and more research is needed to confirm these claims.
Lutein, Astaxanthin and Skin Health
Due to the antioxidant properties of lutein and astaxanthin, both carotenoids are purported to promote skin health. NaturalNews.com states that astaxanthin helps keep people looking young from the inside out by enhancing skin elasticity and decreasing fine lines and wrinkles. Lutein also helps reduce inflammation and promote skin health, and it may be particularly beneficial for the treatment of inflammatory skin disorders such as acne.