That the lutein in dark, leafy greens, avocados, eggs, and plums protects vision and may prevent eye disease is nothing new. But now the list of lutein's health benefits is expanding, especially when lutein is paired with other phytochemicals.
Researchers at UCLA saw a link between high intake of lutein-rich vegetables and a lower incidence of cancer in rural China. So they decided to compare the impact of lutein and lycopene, a well-known inhibitor of prostate cancer that's found in tomatoes, on the growth of prostate cancer cells. Those laboratory findings, presented recently at the American Institute for Cancer Research's annual meeting, show that lutein in tandem with lycopene may have a bigger impact on slowing the growth of prostate cancer cells than either phytochemical alone. Two other recent reports suggest that diets rich in lutein and carotenoids like beta-carotene may reduce a woman's risk of developing breast cancer in premenopausal years.
UCLA's Susan Bowerman says the findings about phytochemicals working more strongly together than apart is a message that Americans should take to heart. "People read that lutein is good and say 'Oh, well, let's just take a supplement,'" she says. "But supplements may only contain one phytonutrient, while foods contain a host of good-for-you phytonutrients, offering a synergistic benefit that supplements can't duplicate."