Plant Substance Lutein Inhibits Inflammation

A plant-based diet is generally considered anti-inflammatory and health-promoting. Many animal foods, on the other hand, can promote and intensify inflammation and thus many chronic diseases. But what are the specific substances found in fruit and vegetables that have such positive effects on health? Lutein is one of those substances. It is a carotenoid that has been shown in studies to help prevent macular degeneration. In July 2017, researchers wrote about the substance’s anti-inflammatory potential in coronary artery disease.

Lutein: anti-inflammatory plant compound

Lutein is a secondary plant substance from the group of fat-soluble carotenoids and therefore belongs to the same family as

  • beta-carotene (in e.g. carrots),
  • astaxanthin (in certain algae),
  • zeaxanthin (in corn),
  • Lycopene (in tomatoes) or also
  • Crocin and crocetin (in saffron).

Lutein is a yellow pigment found in plants

Lutein is a yellow-orange dye in e.g. B. yellow peppers, orange pumpkins, or golden corn. However, lutein is also found in dark green leafy vegetables or in algae (e.g. chlorella and spirulina). In these vegetables, however, the green chlorophyll is so dominant that the yellow lutein is not visible.

Lutein has a significant anti-inflammatory effect – as a study by the Swedish Linkoping University showed. The study was published in July 2017 in the journal Atherosclerosis. There it was read that lutein can improve chronic inflammatory conditions in people with coronary heart disease.

Chronic inflammations are widespread – despite the best medical therapy

Chronic inflammation is present in many chronic diseases (eg, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and even hypertension). In coronary heart disease, chronic inflammation is even a key factor in heart attacks. The following applies: the stronger the inflammatory process in the body, the higher the risk of a heart attack.

“Many patients who have already had a heart attack continue to suffer from subtle but chronic inflammation, even if they have received appropriate treatment to restore the blood vessels (e.g. stent, bypass or similar), even if they take medication and make certain lifestyle changes. We know that chronic inflammation is associated with a poorer prognosis,”
says cardiologist and study leader Lena Jonasson, a professor in the Department of Medical and Health Sciences at Linkoping University.

The higher the carotenoid level in the blood, the lower the inflammation
Previous studies have already shown that our diet and certain substances in our food influence inflammatory processes in the body. Some foods promote chronic inflammation, while others inhibit and reduce inflammation. The latter group now includes those foods that are rich in the above-mentioned carotenoids – lutein.

Some earlier studies showed the following connection: the higher the carotenoid level in the blood, the lower the inflammation levels, and vice versa: the lower the carotenoid level in the blood, the higher the inflammation levels.

This raised the question of whether it is the carotenoids themselves that lead to the observed anti-inflammatory effect or whether other, previously unknown factors are also involved.

Lutein suppresses inflammation in coronary artery disease

Since the previous studies were mostly carried out on animals or healthy test persons, investigations on correspondingly ill people were urgently needed. Because in sick people, i.e. people who already suffer from chronic inflammation, the cells of the immune system are much more sensitive and reactive. So it could well be that these cells react differently in sick people than in healthy people so the earlier test results might not be applicable to sick people at all.

The Swedish study, therefore, focused on the possible anti-inflammatory effect of lutein in people with coronary heart disease.

Our study confirms that lutein can suppress chronic inflammation in patients with coronary artery disease. We were also able to show that lutein is absorbed and stored in the blood’s immune cells,” says Dr. Rosanna Chung, also from the Department of Medical and Health Sciences at Linkoping University.
The more lutein in the blood, the lower the inflammation levels
Chung and Jonasson first examined the levels of carotenoids in the blood of their 193 patients. They measured the six most well-known carotenoids. At the same time, the inflammation values ​​(interleukin-6, IL-6) of the blood were determined. Lutein was the only carotenoid correlated with inflammation scores. The higher the lutein levels in the blood, the lower the IL-6 levels.

The patients received the best therapy currently available for the treatment of coronary heart disease. Nevertheless, the inflammation levels remained elevated for many,” says Lena Jonasson.
In the future, lutein could help to further optimize therapy in order to reduce chronic inflammation and thus significantly improve the prognosis of those affected.

The researchers then tested the reaction of isolated immune cells from sick people when they came into contact with lutein. The inflammatory responses of these cells decreased significantly once they were under the influence of lutein. A study is currently being planned to test whether simply consuming foods rich in lutein has a positive effect on the immune system of people with heart disease.

If you are already adapting your diet accordingly and want to include more lutein-rich foods in your diet from now on, you will find a list of the most lutein-rich foods below:

The list: Lutein-rich vegetables

Apart from the foods in the table below, the following are particularly rich in lutein:

  • Corn
  • kiwi
  • Green and red grapes
  • Red and yellow pumpkins
  • Spirulina, Chlorella
  • Herbs
  • savoy
  • chard
  • cucumbers
  • celery
  • Cauliflower
  • Green beans
  • Apples and oranges and orange juice

Lutein for the eyes

However, lutein not only helps the heart, the blood vessels, and thus cardiovascular health but also specifically the eyes: We have already explained here ( macular degeneration – holistic measures ) and here ( nutrients for the eyes ) how important lutein is for the eyes. The substance acts as a powerful antioxidant in the eye and protects it against attack by free radicals.

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Written by Micah Stanley

Hi, I'm Micah. I am a creative Expert Freelance Dietitian Nutritionist with years of experience in counseling, recipe creation, nutrition, and content writing, product development.

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