The role of macular pigment assessment in clinical practice: a review

Hannah Bartlett, Olivia Howells, Frank Eperjesi

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This review compares the results of studies that have investigated the impact of lutein and zeaxanthin supplementation on macular pigment optical density (MPOD) with those that have investigated the reliability of techniques used to measure macular pigment optical density. The review will focus on studies that have used heterochromatic flicker photometry for measurement of macular pigment optical density, as this is the only technique that is currently available commercially to clinicians. We identified articles that reported on supplementation with lutein and/or zeaxanthin and/or meso-zeaxanthin on macular pigment optical density measurement techniques published in peer-reviewed journals, through a multi-staged, systematic approach. Twenty-four studies have investigated the repeatability of MPOD measurements using heterochromatic flicker photometry. Of these, 10 studies provided a coefficient of repeatability or data from which the coefficient could be calculated, with a range in values of 0.06 to 0.58. The lowest coefficient of repeatability assessed on naïve subjects alone was 0.08. These values tell us that, at best, changes greater than 0.08 can be considered clinically significant and at worst, only changes greater than 0.58 can be considered clinically significant. Six studies assessed the effect of supplementation with up to 20 mg/day lutein on macular pigment optical density measured using heterochromatic flicker photometry and the mean increase in macular pigment optical density ranged from 0.025 to 0.09. It seems reasonable to conclude that the chance of eliciting an increase in macular pigment optical density during six months of daily supplementation with between 10 and 20 mg lutein that is of sufficient magnitude to be detected by using heterochromatic flicker photometry on an individual basis is small. Commercially available heterochromatic flicker photometers for macular pigment optical density assessment in the clinical environment appear to demonstrate particularly poor coefficient of repeatability values. Clinicians should exercise caution when considering the purchase of these instruments for potential monitoring of macular pigment optical density in response to supplementation in individual patients.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)300-308
Number of pages9
JournalClinical and Experimental Optometry
Issue number5
Early online date14 Jul 2010
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2010


  • dietary supplements
  • heterochromatic flicker fusion
  • humans
  • lutein
  • photometry
  • retinal pigments
  • xanthophylls


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