Lutein is ready for a DRI, according to latest review of scientific literature

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Lutein Nutrition Dietary reference intake

Studies on the carotenoid lutein has enough scientific evidence for it to have its own established dietary reference intake (DRI), according to the latest analysis published last week in the European Journal of Nutrition.

The body of research looking at lutein’s health benefits passed nine criteria to determine whether a bioactive is ready to be considered for DRI-like recommendations, argued researchers​ from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Tufts University, and trade group Council for Responsible Nutrition-International (CRN-I).

The nine criteria, developed by Dr Joanne R. Lupton of Texas A&M University and a team of researchers back in 2014​, considered an accepted definition; a reliable analysis method; a food database with known amounts of the bioactive; cohort studies; clinical trials on metabolic processes; clinical trials for dose-response and efficacy; safety data; systematic reviews and/or meta-analyses; and a plausible biological rationale.

Having enough scientific literature to meet the nine criteria means that there is enough evidence for lutein to join the ranks of vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients, which are part of public nutrition policy. The link between lutein and eye health was first reported in 1994 by Dr Johanna Seddon and her team at Harvard University. They found a link between the intake of carotenoid-rich food, particularly dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, and a significant reduction in age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

“Establishing dietary guidance for lutein would encourage the consumption of lutein-containing foods and raise public awareness about its potential health benefits,”​ the researchers wrote in their report.

A conclusion welcomed by manufacturers

Makers of lutein ingredients have long been part of the effort to increase awareness around public lutein consumption.

“We could not be more excited to support the recognition and recommendation that lutein deserves,”​ Anita Norian, president of Kemin Human Health and Nutrition told NutraIngredients-USA.

According to Norian, the company’s lutein ingredient, FloraGLO Lutein, is the “most researched lutein worldwide,”​ with over 80 human clinical publications.

“We were not surprised by the study’s recommendation because Kemin has worked for over 20 years to advance the science of lutein. Kemin strongly agrees that the science and established criteria are aligned to support a Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for lutein,”​ she added.

“Nutritional science has evolved beyond preventing disease to optimizing health.”

To Lynda Doyle, SVP for global marketing at OmniActive Health Technologies, the research results were 'encouraging.' Her company manufactures the branded lutein ingredient Lutemax 2020.

A DRI for lutein, according to Doyle, will "serve to establish the essentiality and importance of the macular carotenoids for eye health, particularly with populations whose intake is below recommended minimum levels. It also 'legitimizes' these nutrients with consumers and puts them in a category shared by vitamins like C, E and A."

A long and arduous process’

Policymakers and stakeholders take note!

“Establishing intake guidelines for lutein could encourage the consumption of lutein-containing foods and subsequently decrease the risk of age-related visual degradation and improve overall visual health,"​ said Jim Griffiths, PhD, VP of scientific & international affairs, CRN-I, and one of the paper’s six coauthors.

"We hope policymakers and stakeholders take note of the strong research supporting the benefits of lutein and move forward with setting a DRI."

Setting dietary recommended intakes for bioactives have long been on the agenda of both carotenoid researchers and members of the nutritional ingredient industry.

“I think academia and industry is enthused about DRIs for lutein, but we’re a long way away,”​​ co-author of the current review, Elizabeth Johnson, PhD, told NutraIngredients-USA back in 2014​. Dr. Johnson is a researcher from the Antioxidants Laboratory in the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.

So could that ‘long way away’ be in, say, the next five years? According to Dr. Johnson’s colleague, Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD,​ a senior scientist at the Antioxidants Research Laboratory, “it is difficult to know,” ​he told NutraIngredients-USA.

He noted that this current study is “the most detailed and fully outlined justification based on meeting the nine ‘Lupton criteria; to determine whether a bioactive is ready to be considered for DRI-like recommendations,” ​but there are some still major roadblocks.

“Initiating a new DRI review panel is a complicated, expensive, long, political, and regulatory process,”

Getting authoritative bodies to join the effort

Marigold flowers are the established commercial source of lutein. Image © Getty Images / Stephan_Swinford

However, a push from authoritative bodies is needed to boost the work done by industry players and trade groups, according to Dr Blumberg.

Though he opined that the ‘Lupton criteria’ ​are fully appropriate and comprehensive, they are not the result of a vetted process by US government agencies such as FDA, NIH, USDA.

“To the extent that plans exist to convene a new panel(s), the highest priorities appear to focus on reconsidering selected, established essential nutrients rather than (what would be the first time) on bioactives like lutein,” ​Dr Blumberg added.

“Creating a new framework for bioactives which do not readily fit the established framework (i.e., fundamentally based on preventing deficiency diseases) would inevitably become a major, and even longer, process.”

He added that this effort must be undertaken by an authoritative body, not a professional society or trade association, to be credible and ‘legal.’

“Thus, the possibility of a recommendation other than a DRI (with an Estimated Average Requirement, Recommended Daily Allowance and Tolerable Upper Intake Level – or, most likely an Adequate Intakes) may be feasible, for example with a recommendation from the CDC or even the WHO/UN-FAO Codex Alimentarius which sets international food standards,” ​he said.

Source: European Journal of Nutrition
Published online,
"Dietary Guidance for Lutein: Consideration for Intake Recommendations is Scientifically Supported"
Authors: K.M. Ranard, et al. 

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