Winter 2015

Lutein? Smart Move

Kale, collards and spinach may improve cognitive functioning

Researchers have known for a while that getting enough lutein in your diet seems to be a good thing for eye health. People who consume more of this deep yellow pigment found in green, leafy vegetables and brightly colored fruits are less likely to develop age-related macular degeneration, for example. But lutein may have a special role in brain health as well.

In an article she wrote for the journal Nutrition Reviews, Assistant Professor Elizabeth Johnson, Ph.D., a scientist in the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, makes a case for studying lutein’s cognitive benefits. She points out that the brain absorbs more lutein than it does other carotenoids, including beta-carotene and lycopene. One study found that having a lutein-rich brain was associated with better marks on a wide range of cognitive tests, including executive function, language, learning and memory.

The need for lutein may start early. Johnston writes that because children have twice the percentage of lutein in their brains as adults, there is a good chance that lutein is important for neural development during the first years of life.

Unfortunately, most Americans don’t get enough. While there is no recommended dietary intake for lutein, it takes 6 mg per day to lower the risk of age-related macular degeneration. The average adult gets less than 2 mg per day. Kale, collards and spinach are the lutein powerhouses, but you can also find it in broccoli, eggs and avocados, among other foods.

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