How does lutein protect eyes in infants and children?


In recent times, an increase in conditions of poorer vision has been reported in children [1]. While the causes of this increase are still to be completely determined, actions can be taken to help decrease their toll. One such action is dietary in nature – specifically, ensuring that children consume appropriate amounts of lutein daily.

Child eye development

Does staring at a digital device damage your eyes?

The eyes of infants and children are still in a developmental phase throughout their early lives [2]. Specifically, key physiological networks are still being developed for their purpose in adulthood [2], and so remain fragile to outer stimuli. As an example of this development, colour vision is not fully developed in children until around 6 months following birth.

Eye damage

With reference to the developmental phases, the retina of the eye is critical. It contains the area of the eye known as the macula, which contains “photoreceptors” that are key optical components in visual focus and contrast, or “acuity”, as it is collectively known [3]. If photoreceptors are damaged, vision is almost certain to be degraded over time, regardless of the age of the damaged eye.

Can sun glare damage your eyes?

Photoreceptors can be damaged through what is known as “oxidative stress” [4], which is essentially a degradation of the eye due to “wear and tear” from the environment we live in (similar to the wind erosion of cliffs along a beach). There are multiple causes for such damage, and these mainly stem from increased exposure to blue light through sources from the environment we live in [5-8]. For example, blue UV light from the sun may be a cause of retinal damage, while blue light emitted from devices such as tablets and phones may contribute in an indirect manner.

Can too much screen time damage eyes?

In the case of device usage, research is still ongoing to establish the association between blue light from devices and eye damage. However, it appears that a combination of optical behaviours associated with device usage (i.e., changes in blinking, for example), combined with emitted blue light can lead to eye damage that manifests as conditions such as dry-eye [9]. Further adding to the problems described, device use close to a time of sleep can also cause issues with the normal circadian rhythm, leading to delayed bedtimes; poor sleep patterns and quality; and increased tiredness during the day [9]. To combat these problems, consumption of dietary antioxidants (such as lutein) that can suppress oxidative damage in the retina may help, as a supportive measure alongside avoiding excessive exposure to harmful blue light sources.

Lutein and eyes

Lutein is a molecule best described as an antioxidant compound with similarity to vitamin A. More specifically, though, lutein is a type of carotene that is naturally present in breastmilk and in coloured fruits and vegetables (particularly dark green leafy vegetables) [10]. The carotenoid antioxidant nature of lutein is what helps it to protect the eyes from oxidative damage [11], as it uses itself as a shield for the eye, to protect it from “wear and tear” damage [12]. In neutralizing the oxidative damage threat, it “destroys” itself, and so, as oxidative damage continues on throughout life, replenishment of a molecular shield such as lutein is continually needed.

Healthy eyes with lutein

Lutein acts both as a protective antioxidant within the eye and as a filter of blue light [4, 5], which points to its importance in preventing eye disease over time. It has been consistently reported that lutein is important in the management and prevention of eye disease such as Age-Related Macular Degeneration [13-14], though the exact mechanisms and benefits of lutein are still debated and, hence, under investigation [15-17].

Support from the scientific community for dietary lutein can be seen further in a report from 2009, where the governing body known as Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) made recommendations concerning the addition of lutein to infant and children’s foods. Here, they detailed that lutein “performs a physiological function within the eye” and that “permitting the addition of lutein” in supplementary foods for children “provides a net benefit”. Hence, infant formulae now tend to contain lutein, for eye health.

Good sources of lutein

As inferred from the FSANZ report, the body cannot create lutein itself, and so the molecule must be taken in through diet. While adults can obtain lutein from sources such as dark green leafy vegetables, babies generally source lutein through breastmilk or infant formula. Notably, the level of lutein within breastmilk is dependent on a mother’s dietary intake [18], which further highlights the importance of balanced maternal nutrition throughout pregnancy.


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    13. Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) Research Group et al. AREDS2 report No. 3. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2014 Feb;132(2):142-9.
    14. Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group et al. AREDS Report No. 22. Arch Ophthalmol. 2007 Sep;125(9):1225-32.
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    16. Akuffo et al. Eye (Lond). 2015 Jul;29(7):902-12.
    17. Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 Research Group. JAMA. 2013 May 15;309(19):2005-15.
    18. Kim, et al. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2016 May 25

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