Lutein and zeaxanthin have long been recognized for their support of eye and vision health, but recent studies have also shown promise with these nutrients when it comes to brain health. Discover some of the latest research on nutrients for cognitive health, as well as food sources of these nutrients, in this report.
More efficient brain power
Doctors in this study thought lower levels of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin would cause the brain to use more energy to function during normal tasks. In this study, researchers asked 40 adults, age 65 to 86, to recall pairs of words they had learned earlier. During the recall activity, doctors analyzed brain activity via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
The fMRI revealed that those with higher levels of lutein and zeaxanthin needed less brain activity to complete the word-recall task compared to those whose lutein and zeaxanthin levels were lower.
“On the surface, it looked like everyone was doing the same thing and recalling the same words,” doctors said, “but there were significant differences in brain activity based on carotenoid levels.” Reference: Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society; October,
Better memory and executive function
In this large study, doctors measured cognitive function in 4,076 independently-living adults, age 50 and older. Those with higher levels of lutein and zeaxanthin had better scores on overall cognition, memory, and executive function—the ability focus attention, control impulses, and remain mentally flexible. Zeaxanthin in particular improved processing speed.
Discussing the findings, doctors said this study is unique for its very large size, representing a broad sample of older adult populations. The researchers have also completed and plan to release later in 2017 a clinical trial testing the cognitive effects of lutein and zeaxanthin supplements in a population of healthy individuals. Reference: Biomedgerontology; January, 2017, Published Online
Lutein speeds nerve-cell response time
Recent studies reveal a role in healthy brain function for the colorful carotenoids normally found in the eye. Lutein, one of the yellow-orange-red pigments in the retina, also accumulates in the brain. Doctors can estimate brain levels of lutein without invasive procedures by measuring amounts of lutein in the retina.
In this study, doctors gauged lutein levels in the eye, and then measured nerve-cell activity in the brain while participants performed an attention test. The study tracked cognitive performance in 60 adults, aged 25 to 45.
Because the study included both younger and older adults, doctors could compare nerve-cell activity—which slows with age—between the two groups. Nerve-cells in the older adults with higher levels of lutein performed at a faster rate normally found in younger people, and better than their peers with lower levels of lutein. And those with more lutein were able to use more cognitive resources to complete the task. Reference: Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience; 2017, 10.3389, Published Online
Avocado for Eye and Mind
Lutein is a carotenoid—the colorful antioxidant pigments in fruit and vegetables—that is essential to the eye and brain. In this study, 40 healthy adults, age 50 or older, ate one avocado per day, or a medium potato or one cup of chickpeas instead, as part of their regular diet. Each avocado provided about 369 mcg of lutein.
After six months, lutein levels had increased 15 percent in the non-avocado group and 25 percent for avocado. The avocado group also saw a 26 percent increase in macular pigment density of the eye, and had improved attention and memory in cognitive tests. Reference: Nutrients; 2017, Vol. 9, No. 9, 919
Kale, spinach and turnip greens
We love these verdant veggies for their eye-fortifying nutrients: lutein and zeaxanthin—antioxidants that reduce risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision impairment.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are particularly special because they filter out blue-wavelength light emitted from smartphones and computers. For effortless nutrition, add chopped kale, spinach or turnip greens into stews or pasta sauce.
Salmon, tuna and mackerel
Yes, seafood does help you see–as well as supporting brain health–thanks to “good” fats found in fatty fish. The omega-3s EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and particularly DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) advance retinal health, according to the American Optometric Association. Head to seafoodwatch.org to find the most eco-friendly options in your state, or ask your natural grocery fishmonger how fish was sourced. Aim to eat seafood twice per week.
Carrots and sweet potatoes
Munching on carrots, sweet potatoes and other yellow-orange vegetables supports eye health, thanks to high levels of vitamin A, a nutrient that makes up a light-absorbing protein in your retina. Try roasting chopped carrots, sweet potatoes, onions and garlic on a sheet pan. When fork-tender, blend with coconut milk and vegetable broth until smooth for a simple, healthy plant-based bisque. Retinoid acid, a metabolite of vitamin A, is also a strong signaling molecule in the brain, making vitamin A important to brain health as well as eye health.
Eggs and shiitake mushrooms
Eggs, particularly the yolks, contain choline, a nutrient popularly known for its brain-boosting properties. But recent research found that choline may also help develop retinal cells. Make a half-dozen hard-boiled eggs on Sunday, and keep in your refrigerator for a quick, easy snack throughout the week. Another eye (and brain) boost: Stir choline-rich, chopped shiitakes into your morning scramble.
Oldie but Goodie: Ginkgo
Ginkgo has long been touted for its benefits to brain health, but did you know it also supports the eyes? This study looked at ginkgo’s benefits after stroke:
In this study, 333 men and women who had had a stroke due to a blockage of blood flow to the brain within the past seven days took 100 mg of aspirin per day, with or without 450 mg of ginkgo biloba extract in three divided doses per day, for six months.
Doctors measured cognition at 12, 30, 90 and 180 days and found those taking aspirin plus ginkgo biloba had higher scores at all four points compared to aspirin alone. The ginkgo group showed a significant slowdown in cognitive decline, better attention, working memory, and cognitive flexibility—the ability to switch between two concepts. Reference: BMJ Stroke and Vascular Neurology; December, 2017, Vol. 2, No. 4
Put these double-whammy nutrients to use in your diet. Support both your brain and your eyes by considering these hard-working constituents.
Betsy’s Note: This article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition. Consult your healthcare provider before taking a supplement, especially if you take other-the-counter or prescription medications or have a known medical condition. For example, the nutrients mentioned in this article also thin blood.
Article copyright 2018 by Natural Insights for Well-Being and Delicious Living. All rights reserved. Used with permission.