The link between carotenoids and eye health is no secret. In fact, some of the first reports of the correlation were reported by Dr. Johanna Seddon and her colleagues at Harvard University back in 1994. Yes, it was as much as 20 years ago that Dr. Seddon and her team initially established the link between intake of carotenoid rich foods and a reduction in age-related macular degeneration. Thanks largely in part to Dr. Seddon’s research, today it is quite well known that carotenoids have the unique ability to build macular pigment and in turn, slow AMD and improve contrast sensitivity in patients.
More recently, however, studies using children, young adults and elderly individuals are now showing the importance of carotenoids, namely lutein, for brain health. Elizabeth Johnson, PhD, a scientist from Tufts University, Prof. John Nolan and Prof. Stephen Beatty of the Macular Pigment Research Group at the Waterford Institute of Technology, among others, led much of the research and insist that the lutein-brain connection is really no surprise since the eyes are essentially an extension of the brain itself.
As you may know, lutein is a yellow pigment found in certain fruits and vegetables. Of course, lutein (alongside Z and Meso-zeaxanthin) is found predominantly in the macula of the retina and is known mainly for its incredible antioxidant potential for ocular health. But just as oxidative damage can occur in the macula, it can occur to other bodily tissue- including the brain. Interestingly, however, Dr. Johnson found that there is no link between beta-carotene or lycopene for brain health, but lutein in particular. Perhaps even further demonstrating that carotenes are particularly beneficial for cognitive health.
Drs. Nolan and Beatty also published the results of their new exploratory study on people with Alzheimer’s disease earlier this month. Their research confirmed that brain carotenoid levels are indeed related to one’s macular pigment. Further, the scientists stated that there is legitimate reason to believe that lutein, zeaxanthin as well as meso-zeaxanthin could play a role in preventing the onset of Alzheimer’s disease; a finding that could be extraordinarily valuable in eventually finding a successful therapy for the devastating condition.
In addition, a double blind, placebo-controlled study was conducted using older women and lutein supplementation. The women who took 12 mg of lutein per day (some in combination with 800 mg DHA) were found to have improved verbal fluency, memory scores and even a higher learning rate after just four months.
Though we’ve always known them as ‘eye food’, this data clarifies that carotenes like lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin are able to support brain health, especially alongside DHA- which they tend to work synergistically with. Increasing carotene intake can be done one of two ways. First, you could rely on consuming (a lot) more green vegetables, corn and eggs on a daily basis. Of course, if maintaining such a diet seems like a challenge, alternatively you can get a daily recommended dose of lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin through a one-a-day supplement like MacuHealth. Our advice? Start taking care of your eyes AND your brain health with carotenoids today and your future self will surely thank you.
Are you surprised by these findings? Do they encourage you to be more diligent about eating/supplementing with carotenoids?