Carotenoids for a More Agile Brain

By: Theresa Greenwell

Cognitive decline and loss of cognitive abilities are normal aspects of aging for many individuals. The exact causes of these changes are often hard to pinpoint, though that has not stopped many researchers from trying.  It is believed that several factors may help to increase or decrease how fast or slow cognitive decline can occur. Where a person lives, what access they have to social stimuli, their income and even their dietary habits can affect their overall cognitive ability.   Could diet be having more of an effect than previously thought?

Past research does, in fact, suggest that dietary habits may have one of the greatest impacts on cognition.  In particular, dietary carotenoid intake in the forms of lutein and zeaxanthin may help to slow cognitive decline. Lutein is the primary carotenoid found in the brain and specifically in the macular pigment of the eye. Studies suggest that the greater the intake of lutein, the better cognitive

What are carotenoids?  Carotenoids are a class of naturally occurring pigments synthesized by plants. These vividly colored molecules are what cause the yellow, orange, and red colors of many plants. Fruit and vegetables provide most of the 40 to 50 carotenoids found in the human diet. Lutein is the primary carotenoid found in the brain and specifically in the macular pigment of the eye. Studies suggest that the greater the intake of lutein, the better cognitive

Studies suggest that the greater the intake of lutein, the better cognitive control and ability individuals appear to have.  Lutein and zeaxanthin are naturally occurring in foods that are highly colored such as kale, carrots, spinach, greens and red or yellow peppers.  As the body cannot synthesize these carotenoids directly, humans must obtain them through dietary intake.

A recent study published by the Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience (June 2017) looked at the relationship between lutein/zeaxanthin intake and cognitive activity. The goal of this study was to see how regular dietary intake of these carotenoids affected cognitive health in young and aging individuals.  Participants ranged in age from 25-45 years. Carotenoid status was assessed by measuring macular pigment optical density (MPOD), which has been shown to be highly correlated with lutein status in the brain.  Cognitive abilities were tested by use of event-related potentials during the performance of tasks designed to tap into different aspects of cognitive control.

 

Researchers found that MPOD levels, therefore higher lutein and zeaxanthin levels, were directly related to greater cognitive control.  Although younger participants did show a better performance in cognition overall, those in the older age groups who had a better lutein/zeaxanthin status also did better overall.  Old adults with better MPOD levels performed cognitive relatively similar to their younger counterparts than those who did not.  It was also found that those who used supplements containing lutein and zeaxanthin worked appeared to have as good of MPOD levels as those who obtained these carotenoids from food.

Though more research is needed to fully understand carotenoid intake levels and their impact on cognition, this study appears to support that carotenoids may be one of several important factors for keeping the aging brain more agile and youthful.

 

Resources:

Carotenoids

http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/dietary-factors/phytochemicals/carotenoids