Interviewer: You mentioned oxidation, free radicals. Explain that. What's going on that 's naturally kind of damaging those tissues that lutein might help with?
Dr. Stringham: So probably the best example of an oxidative process that can do damage at a crucial time period is in utero. You've got the building blocks of development: amino acids, proteins, fats, and oxygen. Oxygen, you need it to live obviously. Unfortunately it also ends up killing us - and we rust. Which is kind of a silly idea, but it's the truth. And so what we're going to do is limit the rusting, slow it down. And you do this, you limit that oxidation with something that can donate an electron basically to these oxygen molecules that are kind of spinning out of control. So the idea is that a free radical oxygen means that it's unbalanced, and so it doesn't have a nice paired balanced electron structure in the outer shell. It loses it for whatever reason: little bit too much energy, too little energy, poof it's gone! And it seeks another electron from often tissue. It can damage the tissue, it can damage the DNA of a particular piece of tissue that it's around. It can exchange electrons from other free radicals. It's nasty what it can do. Well, lutein and other carotenoids, but in this case let's say lutein in the eye, there's a free radical there.
Well it can actually donate an electron to it, quench that free radical so it stabilizes it. And then the magical thing about lutein is that it can
regenerate itself. Most carotenoids, for instance lycopene, it quenches the free radical and then it goes away with it. Now lutein is special, because it quenches the free radical, donates, and then it rolls it along its long structure, and then the only reaction is heat - it gives off a little bit of heat, and then it's there to do it again. So potentially it can do it ad infinitum, it can do it forever. So I tell people if you've got some lutein in your retina, it might be from when you were four and your mom made you eat your peas, or something like that. It can last that long, it's super robust. So oxidative damage is at the root of a lot of disease: macular degeneration, cancers potentially, Alzheimer's disease, those kinds of things. You'll probably hear more about it and their relation to lutein in the near future.