Can Lutein Help You Burn Fat and Supercharge Your Energy Levels?

By on November 6, 2014

Lutein is a carotenoid found in the macula (in the eye) which is normally taken in order to help prevent macula degeneration (1),  one of the most common causes of sight loss in old age.

But a recent study suggests it may have a much more interesting benefit too helping to burn fat and more interestingly, increase energy levels. In a study published in PLoS One (2), it was found that giving rats would increase the distance they ran ‘voluntarily’ in the wheel during their spare time. This was also correlated with heightened fat burning, which researchers found was through activation of the enzyme AMPK – also known as the ‘marathon enzyme’.

This is the first study that looked at using Lutein in this way and obviously it’s of great interest to biohackers, athletes and anyone looking to lose weight. Not only might it be able to increase the energy efficiency of your cells and thus burn more fat but it could also give you more energy and inclination to exercise, which would be the really good bit.

The Study

In the study, rats were given either lutein, full fat milk or a combination of lutein and full fat milk over the course of several months. There was also a control group that received nothing.


The rats were then observed in their cages to see if they would voluntarily use the treadmill and the distance covered was measured. After about 5-6 weeks, the milk and lutein group started running much more than the other rats – to the tune of about 30km. The group consuming only lutein still ran 10km more than the control or milk groups, but it seems that the full fat milk made the effects far more pronounced, presumably by increasing absorption.

To see what was going on, researchers then examined the muscle cells of the mice and found increased amounts of CPT1 or ‘carnitine palmitoyltransferase’. This is an enzyme that helps the mitochondria – the ‘energy factories’ of our cells – to burn more fat and provide more energy.

The increase in CPT1 in turn was observed to be triggered by an increase in AMPK. AMPK is produced when the muscles are low on energy in order to ‘turbocharge’ the mitochondria. Of course the group of mice that had been taking the lutein with milk also lost more weight.

The below graph and chart show the distances run and final weights of the mice involved in the study:

Lutein Distance Covered

Lutein Weight Lost

The mice were given 1mg of lutein per kg of bodyweight, which works out at about 15mg per day for an average sized human. Note that you don’t extrapolate using an exact ratio – humans need smaller relative doses for comparative effects (4).

What is AMPK?

Increasing AMPK is something that is generally of interest and many studies are demonstrating the key role it plays in energy and weightloss. AMPK, or ‘AMP-activated protein kinase’, is a ‘heterotrimeric compound’ meaning it’s a molecule made from three separate parts. As mentioned, it acts as a signal to that cellular energy is dropped – i.e. when ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) is low in the cells and/or when glycogen is low in the muscles. This then tells the cells to amp up energy production and to become more efficient as well as increasing fat oxidation. It does this partly through the increase of CPT1 and it also seems to increase insulin sensitivity.

There is more AMPK in slow-twitch muscle fibre types which makes sense as those are the endurance types that need lots of energy (3). It’s my theory that this is why you get those real ectomorphs who just can’t gain weight – because they have so much slow twitch muscle (which is less bulky than fast twitch) and so many mitochondria burning so much fat as a result. If you’re the type who does put on weight easily, then perhaps you can use lutein in order to increase the efficiency and work ethic of the mitochondria you do have.

Exercise, nutrient surplus and fasting can all also increase AMPK (5). But lutein supplementation might be a very good way to give yourself an additional boost.

My Experiences With Lutein Supplementation

This is a relatively recent study (April 2014) and is the only evidence we currently have for the effectiveness of lutein. And reading around, I didn’t manage to come across anyone who had actually tried using it.

So obviously I decided that was my job…

I’ve been taking 20mg lutein now for about 5-6 weeks – with full fat milk – and I’ve been noting the differences. How has it gone?

Well, I’m not sure what’s placebo or not. Right away that tells you that the effects are super noticeable in the same way that taking loads of protein shake is for instance.

Buuut I would say that I feel a little more energetic than normal. I’ve been starting work earlier in the morning, focusing better and not feeling tired in the evenings. And I do seem to have particularly good stamina on my runs. And I’ve toned my stomach. There are a myriad of factors that could have contributed to this – as I’ve also been a little stressed lately and had a stomach bug.

Basically I don’t want to get carried away and shout about something that I’m not 100% sure on. But you can definitely colour me intrigued…

Do I recommend it? Well it’s not the cheapest supplement in the world, so if you’re on a tight budget then you’re money is better spent elsewhere (on creatine, say). But if you’re up for trying something a little different and definitely if you consider yourself something of a biohacker… why not?

How to Take Lutein

If you’re going to try it yourself, then make sure that you:

  • Consume at least 15mg per day
  • Take it with whole fat milk
  • In the study, the researchers used fortified milk. So you might even want to open the capsule and mix the stuff up to be on the safe side…
  • Wait about 5-6 weeks for the results

Dietary sources of lutein include egg yolk and various fruits and vegetables such as maize, kiwi fruits, grapes and spinach (6).

If you do try it, I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!

 

Update: So I still can’t say 100% that this will have a noticeable difference for you, but after several months of using lutein I’m now fairly convinced that it really has improved my energy levels, my sleep and my fat burning. Over the last two days I wrote 60,000 words which I would never have been able to do before. Is it the lutein? There’s a good chance… So this is one I recommend at least trying!

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About Adam Sinicki

Hi there! My name is Adam Sinicki, I’m an entrepreneur, psychology graduate and amateur bodybuilder interested in fitness, self improvement, technology and transhumanism. I run an online business (NQR Productions) which allows me to live the lifestyle I want: getting time to hit the gym and to work on my projects and apps. Stick around and I’ll be sharing my experiments and adventures in brain training, bodybuilding, productivity, business and technology.

  • Kevin Bratetic

    What brand is the supplement you are taking?

    • thebioneer

      It’s ‘Lutigold Extra’ from Holland & Barrett. Very much marketed for eye health!

      • Kevin Bratetic

        Good deal. I eager to give it a try. I have been reading and hearing more about it and just looking for options.

  • Shankt

    Hey Adam

    I’m confused by your statement:
    “The mice were given 1mg of lutein per kg of bodyweight, which works out at about 15mg per day for an average sized human.”

    The logic of the statement would indicate that the average sized human is 15kg (33lbs).

    In my experience, the average person weighs 4-5 times this amount, and as such would need at least 70mg lutein daily to mimic the study.

    Am I missing something here?

    Thanks!

    • thebioneer

      Hi Shankt!

      Thanks for reading and for pointing out this big oversight in my post! I should have explained more (will be updating after responding here).

      Basically, I let someone else do the precise maths – but ultimately the important point to consider is that you don’t extrapolate dosages by using a strict ratio. Larger animals tend to need *smaller* doses for comparative effects. You can read more on the subject here:

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2737649/

      Does that mean that 15mg is definitely the optimum dose for humans? Certainly not! But I can say that from my own experiments it seems very promising – though of course it’s always hard to rule out placebo 100%!

      Hope this helps and thanks for reading!

      • Shankt

        Thanks for your quick response Adam

        I did do some research on the maximum safe dosage for Lutein. I found the following document which reports that 2mg/kg is safe for humans.

        http://www.nutraingredients.com/Regulation-Policy/Scientific-panel-approves-safety-of-high-dose-lutein-zeaxanthin

        I’m no doctor (more of a mad-scientist), but would offer the suggestion to increase your dosage to mirror the study’s 1mg/kg… which is 1/2 of the safe dosage for humans.

        By doing so you may experience enough of an increase increase in effect to put the placebo question to rest.

        Great blog. Thanks!

        • thebioneer

          Thanks for the link! Good to know there’s no chance of toxicity – actually going up to 1mg/kg would cost a fortune though lol! In theory that would have a much stronger effect on the body than the same amount for mice, but who’s to say that wouldn’t result in greater results as well…

          So you have a good point, it might be useful to try increasing the dosage to see if I notice any increase in effects! I’ll up the dosage gradually and see whether there is a law of diminishing returns at play here.

          I’ve found some other interesting studies/theories on lutein lately too, so I’ll post on the topic again soon!

          Thanks again for reading and your suggestion 😀

          • Dan

            Just grow some nasturtiums. 45mg per 100g in the flowers, and lots in the plant too. Just puts loads in a salad.

  • John

    Awesome article. My problem here though is that I’m lactose intolerant. Do you have a suggested replacement for the full fat milk?

    • thebioneer

      Any saturated fat will do, it’s only to aid absorption. Try eggs maybe, or coconut oil 🙂

  • vsync

    There’s not a single link for any study… I must say blog posts online cannot be credible without referencing links. Else, how should one know you didn’t make things up?

    • thebioneer

      Are you trolling? Because there’s exactly 6 references… They’re the numbers in the brackets. Also the graphs are screen caps taken from studies… Also, why would I make this up?

      • vsync

        Sorry, I didn’t notice those tiny numbers.. I’m used to having links shown on texts during an article, or just after it ends, in a list of referenced links. Anyway I’ve been taking it exactly as you say, every day with milk in the morning for couple of months and I see no difference what-so-ever. These ones – http://www.amazon.com/Doctors-Best-Softgel-Capsules-60-Count/dp/B001C4R36W/

        I stopped taking it after few months since I didn’t notice any change..maybe it’s just something you have to take all your life to “avoid” having eye issues later. but that would be annoying and expensive to take for 40 years or even more….I’ll wait for science to give a better solution. meanwhile I’m taking Creatine which is awesome.