Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Lutein: The Seeing, Thinking Carotenoid

The link between the carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, and visual and cognitive health throughout life is growing stronger, according to a review of the research from Tufts University in Boston. Lutein and its isomer, zeaxanthin, are taken up selectively into eye tissue. Lutein is the predominant carotenoid in human brain tissue. Lutein and zeaxanthin in neural tissue have biological functions, including antioxidation, anti-inflammation, and structural actions. In addition, lutein and zeaxanthin are protective against eye disease by absorbing damaging blue light that enters the eye. In pediatric brains, the relative contribution of lutein to the total carotenoids is twice that found in adults, accounting for more than half the concentration of total carotenoids. The greater proportion of lutein in the pediatric brain also suggests a need for lutein during neural development. In adults, higher lutein status is associated with improved cognitive function, and lutein supplementation has been shown to improve cognition.

Lutein accounts for 59% of the carotenoids in the infant’s brain, even when it is low in the diet, according to a study from Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.

In Perspective: Lutein and zeaxanthin are two carotenoids found in dark green leafy vegetables, such as kale, spinach, chard, and collard greens. Research suggests we need at least 10 milligrams of lutein and 2 milligrams of zeaxanthin every day to protect ocular tissue from damage associated with macular degeneration and cataracts. That dosage requires at least a cup or more of dark green leafies every day, or supplement.  Optimal intake for brain function has not been determined.

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