Research News

Lutein may boost cognitive health

August, 2017    |

University of Illinois researchers have found that lutein, found in leafy green vegetables, could aid with cognitive function.

In a recent study, researchers looked at 60 adults aged 20 to 45. They found that middle-aged participants with higher levels of lutein had neural responses on par with younger individuals, rather than with their peers. While many other studies have focused on older adults, the Illinois researchers compared young to middle-aged adults to see whether there was a notable difference between those with higher and lower lutein levels.

“As people get older, they experience typical decline. However, research has shown that this process can start earlier than expected. You can even start to see some differences in the 30s,” says Anne Walk, a postdoctoral scholar and first author of the paper. “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.”

In order to determine their participants’ lutein levels, the Illinois researchers measured lutein in the study participants’ eyes by having participants look into a scope and respond to a flickering light. Then, via electrodes on the scalp, researchers measured neural activity in the brain during attention-based tasks.

“The neuro-electrical signature of older participants with higher levels of lutein looked much more like their younger counterparts than their peers with less lutein,” says Walk. “Lutein appears to have some protective role, since the data suggest that those with more lutein were able to engage more cognitive resources to complete the task.”

In upcoming trials, Khan’s group aims to understand lutein’s effects on 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.