The Importance of Macular Pigment in Macular Health

Last time I discussed the macula and its critical role in us achieving clear, sharp vision. Today I want to fill you in on a critical area of the macula that is essential for good macular health.  Macular pigment is a protective layer, which acts as a filter for light before it reaches the sensitive photoreceptor cell layers deeper in the central retina.

Macular pigment contains mainly three carotenoids: Zeaxanthin, Lutein, and meso-zeaxanthin, which are photo-protectants and antioxidants.  The levels of Lutein, Zeaxanthin and Meso-Z present in the macula has been found to be in a regular proportion in which the 3 components acts synergistically to perform their protective and filtering functions. The greatest concentration of Zeaxanthin is in the centre of the macula, while Lutein is greater in the para-macular area. The body cannot synthesize or create dietary Zeaxanthin or Lutein, so they must be obtained through the diet.  Meso-zeaxanthin is converted from Lutein: it is not available via the diet.

Lutein is found in many dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, collard greens, or kale and is relatively easy to obtain through the diet. Zeaxanthin is far more scarce in the average daily diet, but can be obtained via corn, capsicum, goji berries, or other brightly colored fruits and vegetables to obtain the amount necessary to establish or maintain healthy macular pigment density. Based upon the difficulty to consume an adequate quantity of dietary Zeaxanthin via food sources, it is reasonable to take supplements that contain Zeaxanthin and Lutein to ensure we receive an adequate daily intake. We currently recommend the MD Eyes supplement for optimum macular health.

Below are some of the benefits associated with healthy macular pigment:

Decrease Risk of AMD – low macular pigment is a key risk factor for Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD).

Less Photophobia – low macular pigment can contribute to increased light sensitivity.

Improved Contrast Sensitivity – the ability to distinguish an object from other objects or background is better with higher macular pigment.

Glare Disability and Veiling – Reduction in vision due to direct bright light or bright light at an angle is greater if macular pigment is low.

Improved Colour Saturation – blue light spectrum tends to scatter in the eye causing a reduction of saturation of colours, however better macular pigment helps this.

Reduced Chromatic Aberration – different wavelengths of light focus at different points in the eye causing a bluish purple outline to some objects.

Improved Visual Acuity – ability to see clearly is affected by contrast sensitivity, glare, light scatter, and other factors.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin can also influence visual function through improved temporal processing and cognitive status.


Obviously following on from the above, it is important to be able to accurately identify people who are deficient in pigment and thus at risk. If we can do this then we are able to advise the individual on the steps they can take to boost their macular pigment levels through diet and nutritional supplements, as well as advising on the best possible protection from blue light damage while they are at highest risk.

The macular pigment layer density cannot be visualized via clinical or photographic examination. Specialised instrumentation is required to measure this unique layer in the eye. There are only a couple of types of instruments that can measure this unique part of the eye and at Envision Optical, we have been the only Gold Coast and Tweed Heads optometrists to offer this testing to our patients for the last 4 years. This device is simple to use and delivers a quick, accurate measurement that gives an immediate quantifiable picture of the macular pigment levels of an individual. Each eye takes less than 2 minutes to measure. At the conclusion of this we have an accurate score of the Macular Pigment Optical Density (MPOD), and are then able to give individual recommendations about the steps needed to ensure optimum macular health. A reading of less than 0.5 is suboptimal, and less than 0.25 is high risk. If your score is low, re-testing in 6 months after dietary and lifestyle changes plus macular health supplementation is recommended to monitor for improvements in MPOD.

Studies have shown that over 85% of patients are able to increase their macular pigment levels through diet and supplementation, so having the ability to accurately monitor this important risk factor for optimum eye health is very exciting.

If you would like to have this important eye health assessment performed, please contact our Burleigh Waters or Tweed Heads branches for an appointment.

Post by: Andrew Bowden, Optometrist