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Antioxidant Lutein Decreases Heart Disease

Lutein, a carotenoid known to protect eye health by preventing free radical damage of the macula (the most vital area of the retina), has now also been found to help prevent atherosclerosis, the hardening and narrowing of arteries that can lead to heart attack and stroke.

Like the more familiar vitamin antioxidants A, C and E, lutein acts as an antioxidant that prevents damage by a type of free radicals called reactive oxygen species. Research has suggested that by neutralizing reactive oxygen species, these nutrients help prevent oxidative damage that may lead to heart disease and certain cancers. Since the oxidation of LDL ("bad") cholesterol in the arteries is a major factor in the development of heart disease, lutein’s ability to shut down oxidation offers significant protection.

Lutein has already been shown to potentially lower the risk of the most common cause of age-related vision loss, macular degeneration, by preventing oxidative damage to the retina. In the new research, investigators studied lutein's ability to prevent thickening in the neck's carotid arteries, a marker indicative of artery disease throughout the body. At the end of the 18 month study of 480 utility employees aged 40 to 60 years, those participants with the highest blood levels of lutein showed virtually no artery-wall thickening, while those with the lowest lutein levels showed increased artery thickness. Even after other factors including age, smoking, use of heart medications and intake of other vitamins were considered, the link between lutein and artery health still held.

To further investigate this dietary association, the researchers then conducted experiments in mice and cell cultures. First they did test tube experiments in which they found that treating artery-wall cells with lutein reduced the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Then they evaluated two types of mice engineered to develop artery disease and found that those given lutein-supplemented diets developed significantly smaller artery-clogging plaques than those given the standard mice diet. Lutein supplementation reduced artery lesion size by 44% in apoE null mice and 43% in LDL receptor-null mice.

The researchers concluded that epidemiological, human, and mouse in vitro and in vivo findings all support the hypothesis that increased dietary intake of lutein is protective against the development of early atherosclerosis.

The World’s Healthiest Foods rich in lutein include:

For suggestions as to how to enjoy these lutein-rich members of the World's Healthiest Foods, click on the Recipe Assistant, select any of World's Healthiest Foods noted above from the health foods list, and click on the Submit button. A list containing links to all the World's Healthiest Foods' recipes containing the foods chosen will appear immediately below.

Reference: Dwyer JH, Navab M, Dwyer KM, Hassan K, Sun P, Shircore A, Hama-Levy S, Hough G, Wang X, Drake T, Merz CN, Fogelman AM. Oxygenated carotenoid lutein and progression of early atherosclerosis: the Los Angeles atherosclerosis study. Circulation June 19, 2001;103

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