- Lutein, a carotenoid found in green leafy vegetables may protect against cognitive aging, finds a new study
- Higher levels of lutein accumulation in the eye is linked to cognitive and brain health
- Thus, higher consumption of lutein-rich foods may offer a protective role in delaying cognitive aging
Green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale may help counter cognitive aging, according to a new study a research team at the University of Illinois. The study indicates that a nutrient called lutein, which is found in green leafy vegetables may provide cognitive benefits.
What is Lutein?
Lutein is a naturally occurring carotenoid found in colored fruits and vegetables like spinach, kale, and avocado. Lutein cannot be synthesized in the body and thus must be obtained from the diet. Lutein is a predominant carotenoid in the human brain tissue and the eye. Higher levels of lutein in the brain and eye are associated with a better cognitive function in older adults. Greater retinal carotenoid status is a marker of dietary patterns characterized by higher intake of green leafy vegetables.
How Lutein Protects Against Cognitive Decline?
Most of the studies on cognitive decline are focused on older adults after there has already been a period of decline. The research team at the Illinois University conducted a study among the middle-aged group. The study included 60 participants between the age of 25 to 45. The aim of the study was to check whether there was a notable difference in cognition between the participants with higher and lower lutein levels.
As people get older, they experience a decline in cognition. Studies have shown that this process can start earlier than expected. Some people can even start to see some differences in their 30s. "We want to understand how diet impacts cognition throughout the lifespan. If lutein can protect against decline, we should encourage people to consume lutein-rich foods at a point in their lives when it has maximum benefit," said, Anne Walk, a postdoctoral scholar and first author of the paper.
‘Lutein-rich foods such as kale, spinach, avocado, and eggs can help boost overall cognitive abilities in middle-aged individuals’
The research team measured lutein levels in the participants' eyes by having them look into a scope and respond to a flickering light. To measure the neural activity in the brain, the research team placed electrodes on the participants' scalp while they perform a task that tested attention.
The findings showed that the participants with higher levels of lutein had neural responses that were as same as the younger individuals than with their peers.
In older adults with higher levels of lutein, the neuro-electrical signature looked much more like the younger counterparts than their peers with less lutein. Thus, lutein appears to have some protective role against cognitive decline.
The research team also found that those with more lutein were able to engage more cognitive resources to complete the task.
"Now there's an additional reason to eat lutein-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables
eggs, and avocados. We know these foods are related to other health benefits, but these data indicate that there may be cognitive benefits as well," said Naiman Khan, a professor of kinesiology and community health at Illinois."
The research team aims to conduct intervention trials to understand how increased dietary intake of lutein may increase the accumulation lutein in the eye and how the levels relate to changes in cognitive performance.
"In this study, we focused on attention, but we also would like to understand the effects of lutein on learning and memory. There's a lot we are very curious about," Khan said.
The findings of the study were published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.
Foods Rich in Lutein
Lutein-rich foods not only give the required dose of vitamins and minerals but can also do wonders for the overall cognitive skills
. Some of the foods rich in lutein are spinach, kale, carrots, broccoli, red and yellow peppers, sweetcorn, tomatoes, orange, eggs and spices like cayenne pepper and paprika.
- Anne M. Walk et al, The Role of Retinal Carotenoids and Age on Neuroelectric Indices of Attentional Control among Early to Middle-Aged Adults, Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience (2017). DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2017.00183