The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin are found in the macula in high concentrations and may play a role in the pathogenesis of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD). Lutein and zeaxanthin may protect the macula and photoreceptor outer segments throughout the retina from oxidative stress and play a role in an antioxidant cascade that safely disarms the energy of reactive oxygen species. Although lutein and zeaxanthin are not essential nutrients, studies are beginning to suggest that they fit the criteria for conditionally essential nutrients. Low plasma lutein and zeaxanthin concentrations or dietary intake are associated with low macular pigment density and increased risk of ARMD. Dietary deprivation of lutein and zeaxanthin in primates causes pathological changes in the macula. Should controlled clinical trials show lutein and/or zeaxanthin supplementation protects against the development or progression of ARMD and other eye diseases, then lutein and zeaxanthin could be considered as conditionally essential nutrients for humans.
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