Protect Your Health | Prevent Disease with Xanthophylls

Protect Your Health | Prevent Disease with Xanthophylls

My enthusiasm for nutrition was born out of a fascination with the way human biochemistry interacts with plant chemistry. The way I see, all species on this planet are interconnected in a web, forming what might be considered a single super-system. Everything has a relation with each other, no matter how seemingly different the life form. And everything has the same mother, our planet, which plants, and fishes, and insects, and peoples, in the same way an apple tree apples.

Too often, especially in the city dwelling world, we think of ourselves as being contradistinct from other species, when in reality we are all evolved out of the same system. As I said, in a real sense, the planet is a grand organism with its own complex biochemistry, of which we are a small part. Ethno-botany is so very interesting because discovering the relationship between our internal chemical mechanisms and the world around is not only a challenge, but can be very rewarding and empowering. For millennia we have been figuring out how we can use the plants around us to feed or heal or even to kill. It's like a puzzle and we are striving to see how all the pieces fit together to reveal the whole.

Case in point are xanthophylls.

Everything owes its existence to the sun, which radiates energy to fuel the abundant life on earth. Plants are the perfect biological response in that they absorb light through photosynthesis and need no other source of energy. Other so-called higher-life (animals, insects, fish, etc) must consume exogenous materials to derive their sustenance. So for us humans, just how plants interact with human biochemistry is the never-ending question. Some plants can take us to the pinnacle of health and others can utterly rob us of vitality.

As we have discussed various plants and their compounds in the past, we have tried to find those that have particular value to human health. Of them all, xanthophylls may be one of the most important, if not the most interesting. These are the compounds found, amongst other places, in the yellow pigments of leaves (oxygenated carotenoids that are synthesized within the plastids.)

Xanthophylls, which include capsanthin, lutein, zeaxanthin, echionine, canthaxanthin, and astaxanthin, are fundamental to the life of plants as they manage energy production in a way. In leaves, these pigments capture certain wavelengths of sunlight not absorbed by chlorophylls, increasing overall absorption of the visible spectrum of sunlight. But more importantly, xanthophylls are protective, preventing damage within the chloroplast that may occur from excess solar radiation.

It is all a wonderful interplay of light and color.

There is a process we call the xanthophyll cycle where violaxanthin present in the plastids at dawn is changed into antheraxanthin and finally into zeaxanthin as sunlight intensity increases. This zeaxanthin absorbs excess solar energy that chlorophyll cannot use, preventing a build up that would otherwise damage the plant's photosynthetic apparatus.

As is often the case with plant protective compounds, xanthophylls are also highly beneficial to the human body. It is a member of the carotenoids, which have become so popularized due to their strongly beneficial biological activities (and the worldwide vitamin A deficiency.) What is intriguing to me is that of the forty or so carotenoids that are ingested in normal diets, only six (and their metabolites) have been found active in human tissues, so there is clearly selectivity in the intestinal absorption. The composition of two carotenoids can be extremely similar but the human body will take benefit from one and not the other (

Carotenoids and health.

Carotenoids have shown in research to have a wide range of significantly helpful characteristic activities beyond just immuno-enhancing, such as anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, anti-cancer, and anti-obese actions. Xanthophylls are at the top of the useful carotenoids, especially lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin, which are well known for providing powerful protection against age-related vision loss, cataracts, and macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness.

The link between the role of these compounds in the absorbing of radiation and the beneficial effect on human sight is clear. Scientists believe that zeaxanthin and other xanthophylls may help by increasing the structural density of the eye’s macular pigment. In one study, epidemiologists found a 43% decrease in macular degeneration in people with the highest dietary carotenoid intakes.

Moreover, xanthophylls provide broad protection against oxidative stress and inflammation. Though we have often discussed the dangers of oxidative stress (and won't re-hash it), the risks to the eye are much greater due to its exposure to light and to its high metabolism. Current medicine tells us that anything that protects against inflammation and oxidation in the body is very important and useful. Xanthophylls are of immense value to good health.

How do I get xanthophylls into my diet?

When you hear people tell you to pick the foods with the most color, like yellows, greens, purples, reds, etc, it is the pigment (color) compounds like xanthophylls that are the main reason for the benefits. Xanthophylls are found in green leafy vegetables and fruits. Some of the best sources are egg yolk, berries, papaya, peaches, prunes, squash and flowers like marigold, daffodil and tulip.

The best news is that processing of these food sources such as grinding, fermentation and gentle heating usually improves bioavailability, likely due to the weakening the cell wall of plant tissues and dissociating the protein-oxycarotenoid complexes. This means that supplements can be a very effective way to augment your diet with these highly important and health-supporting micronutrients.

Our own GREEN 33 daily vegetables and fruit complex is full of xanthophyll-containing foods in their whole food form, and our RESVERAYOUTH resveratrol, "super" fruits complex is bursting with carotenoid power. It's often difficult to eat enough quantity and variety of the right foods to get sufficient levels of xanthophylls, so supplements make good sense.

Related Posts: 
The Importance of Being Alkaline - Know Your pH ! 
For the Love of Food, What We Eat Can Heal

daily green superfood supplement

Bruneton, J., Carotenoids in Pharmacognosy, Phytochemistry Medicinal Plants, Lavoisier Publishing Inc. (1999) p. 769
The Merck Index, thirteenth ed. 10120, (2001)
Widomska J, Subczynski WK. Why has nature chosen lutein and zeaxanthin to protect the retina? J Clin Exp Ophthalmol. 2014 Feb 21;5(1):326.
Piermarocchi S, Saviano S, Parisi V, et al. Carotenoids in age-related maculopathy Italian study (CARMIS): two-year results of a randomized study. Eur J Ophthalmol. 2012 Mar-Apr;22(2):216-25.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author. Content and other information presented on the site are not meant to be medical advice or any substitute for professional advice, counseling, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard professional medical or mental health advice from your physician or other qualified health provider.


    • Avatar
      Uve Wilde
      Apr 3, 2015

      I love your Green 33 supplement. I bought it on amazon a couple of months ago and I have been buying it regularly. Love the effects I feel. Thanks.

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