Vitamin A Vs Lutein
Disclaimer: This content has been produced purely for informational and educational purposes only and is never intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical guidelines including diagnosis, advice, and treatment.
Both vitamin A and lutein are essential for vision and eye health. But in fact, they are much more than just for the eyes and have many other health benefits as well. But many people often get confused - vitamin A vs lutein - which one is more beneficial? If this sounds like you, then keep reading to learn more.
In this article, we’ll be weighing up the effects of vitamin A vs lutein mainly in terms of their benefits for the eyes and overall well-being. But before we get into the comparison between vitamin A and lutein, it’s worth knowing the basics of these essential micronutrients a little bit more. So, let’s get started.
Table of contents
- What is vitamin A?
- What is lutein?
- Vitamin A vs lutein: role and function in the human body
- Final words
What is vitamin A?
Vitamin A is a micronutrient that’s similar to oil and it gets dissolved in fats and oils, but not in the water. This means it’s a fat-soluble substance and can get stored in the fatty tissues and liver inside the body. It regulates the development of nearly every cell throughout the human body. Vitamin A is arguably critical for the eyes, skin, body’s natural defense (immune system), and overall health.
Certain foods naturally contain vitamin A. But it’s also available in fortified foods and dietary supplements. In fact, it’s not a single substance, instead, vitamin A refers to a group of three substances collectively called retinoids that include retinoic acid, retinal, and retinol.
Vitamin A comes in two major types -
Preformed vitamin A - as the name suggests, these are readily usable forms of vitamin A. Retinol is the most common dietary form of preformed vitamin A that is found only in animal-based foods such as fish, poultry, meat, and dairy products.
Provitamin A - some plant pigments, that are a part of a large class of organic compounds carotenoids, are converted into preformed vitamin A in the body so that the body can utilize and store it as per requirement. Examples of provitamin A carotenoids include beta-carotene and alpha-carotene. Provitamin A is present in only plant foods such as carrots, pumpkins, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, and dark leafy greens.
What is lutein?
Lutein is a type of plant nutrient that belongs to a class of organic pigments called carotenoids. Carotenoids are responsible for the vivid natural colors of certain fruits and vegetables, especially those that are yellow, orange, and red.
There are two major types of carotenoids - carotenes and xanthophylls. Lutein and its close relative zeaxanthin come under the type of xanthophyll carotenoids.
The term “lutein” came from the Latin word “lutea”, which means yellow. In fact, lutein is a yellow pigment in its normal concentration in foods but gradually appears orange or red in its higher concentrations.
Lutein is produced by plants and hence, animals usually get it by consuming plant-based foods. Dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, broccoli, and turnip greens contain the highest concentrations of lutein. Lutein is also added to chicken feed to intensify the egg yolk’s yellow color.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are the only two carotenoids present in the human eyes, particularly inside the retina and macula. This is the reason why lutein is widely promoted as “the eye vitamin” and is used to protect the eyes from various diseases, especially those related to the retina and macula.
Vitamin A vs lutein: role and function in the human body
Vitamin A's role and function
Vitamin A plays many different roles across various bodily functions in the body. They may include, but aren’t limited to:
Maintaining vision - vitamin A plays an essential role in maintaining light-sensing cells in the eyes and helps adjust vision in dim light. It’s also crucial for producing tear fluids.
Hair growth - vitamin is important for healthy hair growth. Deficiency or low levels of vitamin A may cause hair loss or alopecia. (for details, consider reading our article - Beta-Carotene for Hair Growth)
Growth and development - adequate vitamin A is critical for the growth of nearly each and every cell throughout the body.
Immune response - vitamin A is a key player in keeping the immune response in a healthy state that’s vital for preventing infections and diseases.
Maintaining fertility and reproductive function - vitamin A is vital for maintaining fertility and also for fetal development.
Lutein’s role and function
Although lutein is best known as “the eye vitamin”, it has been found to have many other potential health benefits as well. It works well both alone as well as in combination with other beneficial carotenoids, especially zeaxanthin, beta-carotene, and lycopene. Let’s take a look at some of the common roles and functions of lutein in the body:
Eye health - lutein has a range of proven benefits on eye health, especially in protecting against macular degeneration and cataracts.
Brain health - modern research suggests that adequate dietary intake of lutein can enhance memory and overall cognitive function.
Heart health - taking dietary lutein at higher levels has been linked to better heart health and reduced risk of heart diseases.
Cancer prevention - all carotenoids, including lutein, have been found to have tremendous antioxidant properties that possess significant cancer-fighting properties.
Both vitamin A and lutein are related to each other as they have quite similar effects as other carotenoids. In weighing up of benefits of vitamin A vs lutein, we find both are equally important for the eyes and overall health.
But which one is better? - it depends on specific health conditions and how a body responds. However, most often clinicians recommend taking them together at the same time for faster and better results. It’s important to consider asking a qualified naturopathic doctor prior to using any supplements.
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