Macular Pigment, the Eye’s Internal Blue Blocker
Macular Pigment helps protect the macula (the center of the back of our eye) from free-radical damage caused by blue wavelength light. This protection against free-radical damage is important as it has been shown to contribute to the development of Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD). Studies show that individuals with low levels of macular pigment are at much greater risk of developing AMD later in life. We are all born with a certain level of macular pigment, however, the lighter the complexion of an individual, i.e. blonde hair, blue eyes, fair skin, the greater the likelihood of low macular pigment (however there are exceptions).
As shown in the photo above, the macula is the center of our retina and in cross section is actually seen as an indentation of our central retina. Macular Pigment is yellow in color and found at the surface of this indentation. There are three main components to macular pigment, Lutein, Zeaxanthin, and Meso-Zeaxanthin. These are part of the carotenoid family of pigments, over 600 of which are found in nature, but only three in the eye.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin are found in our diet in foods such as vegetables and eggs. Meso-Zeaxanthin is also found in some foods such as oysters, shrimp shells, trout skin, salmon skin, and turtle fat…hardly the stuff of a routine diet! In general, we do not get enough macular pigment from the food we eat.
In addition to blocking blue wavelength light from getting to the lower levels of the macula where free radicals are formed (the dark red band in the photo above), the macular carotenoids also serve as excellent antioxidants. Therefore, even when free radicals are formed, having a healthy level of macular pigment will neutralize them.
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