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HEALTH REPORT - June 12, 2002: Lutein - 2002-06-10

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Recent research has suggested that a nutrient called lutein (LOO-teen) may improve health in more ways than had been thought. Lutein is found in green, leafy vegetables like spinach and lettuce. It is also found in other fruits and vegetables such as oranges, corn and broccoli. And it is found in the yellow part of eggs.

Lutein is also found in the human eye. Lutein and similar substances known as carotenoids (ca-ROT-en-oids) make up the color in the macula, the area of the eye responsible for seeing fine detail. Studies have suggested that greater amounts of carotenoids increase the color of the macula. Scientists believe that more color protects the macula from damage.

A study in the publication “Optometry” says that eating more foods with lutein may improve vision in people with eye problems. Another study linked greater levels of carotenoids with reduced early signs of macular damage. And two large studies have linked lutein to fewer problems with the eye condition called cataracts.

Now, research has begun to show that lutein can protect health in other ways. A report in the publication, "Circulation," says it may reduce the chance of heart attack and stroke. People with higher blood levels of lutein had less of a harmful substance inside their blood vessels.

One study found that people in Toulouse, France had high levels of lutein and a low rate of heart disease. The study also found that people in Belfast, Ireland had much lower levels of lutein and a much higher rate of heart disease. Other studies have suggested that lutein may protect against cancers of the breast and colon.

Researchers in Boston, Massachusetts, have shown that lutein in dark green, leafy vegetables can protect the skin against sun damage. The researchers fed foods containing lutein to a group of mice for two weeks. Another group of mice got normal food. The researchers shined ultraviolet light on all the mice for twenty-two weeks. The mice treated with lutein developed fewer and smaller cancerous growths and survived longer than the others.

Some people try to increase their lutein levels by taking the nutrient in a pill. However, experts say the protection thought to be provided by lutein could be the result of many nutrients in the foods tested. They say people should eat more foods that contain lutein.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Nancy Steinbach.