Observational epidemiological studies have shown that low carotenoid intake and/or low carotenoid blood levels increase the risk of degenerative diseases like age-related macular degeneration. Functional foods enriched with plant sterol or stanol esters may lower serum concentrations of fat-soluble carotenoids. Theoretically, as a result the macular pigment optical density (MPOD), a marker for eye health, may change. We carried out a double-blind placebo-controlled human intervention trial with a duration of 18 months to evaluate the possible effects of plant stanol and sterol esters on serum lutein/zeaxanthin concentration in relation to the MPOD. Forty-seven subjects were randomly assigned to one of the three treatment groups: margarine without added plant sterols or stanols, plant sterol-enriched margarine, or plant stanol-enriched margarine. Serum cholesterol and lutein/zeaxanthine concentrations and the MPOD were evaluated at baseline and at study end. Changes in lipid-adjusted serum lutein/zeaxanthine concentrations between baseline and study end differed significantly between the three groups (P = 0.001). We found no differences in the MPOD between the three treatment groups, despite the differences in both absolute and cholesterol-standardized serum lutein/zeaxanthine concentrations. This shows that the observed reduction in serum carotenoid concentrations during 18 months consumption of these functional foods does not affect MPOD.
Berendschot, T. T., Plat, J., de Jong, A., & Mensink, R. P. (2009). Long-term plant stanol and sterol ester-enriched functional food consumption, serum lutein/zeaxanthin concentration and macular pigment optical density. British Journal of Nutrition, 101(11), 1607-1610. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114508111448