Chapter

Free Radicals and Aging

Volume 62 of the series EXS pp 280-298

Carotenoids in the retina — A review of their possible role in preventing or limiting damage caused by light and oxygen

  • Wolfgang SchalchAffiliated withVitamins & Fine Chemical Division, F. Hoffmann — La Roche, Human Nutrition Research

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Summary

Two of the circa 600 naturally occurring carotenoids, zeaxanthin and lutein, the major carotenoids of maize and melon respectively, are the constituents of the macula lutea, the yellow spot in the macula, the central part of the retina in primates and humans. Of the circa ten carotenoids found in the blood these two are specifically concentrated in this area, which is responsible for sharp and detailed vision. This paper reviews the ideas that this concentration of dietary carotenoids in the macula is not accidental, but that their presence may prevent or limit damage due to their physicochemical properties and their capability to quench oxygen free radicals and singlet oxygen, which are generated in the retina as a consequence of the simultaneous presence of light and oxygen. Additionally, in vitro and in vivo animal experiments are reviewed as well as observational and epidemiological data in humans. These show that there is enough circumstantial evidence for a protective role of carotenoids in the retina to justify further research. Some emphasis will be put on age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a multifactorial degenerative retinal disease for which the exposure to light and thus photochemical damage has been suggested as one of the etiological factors. Recent attempts at nutritional intervention in this condition will also be reviewed.