A new study from University of Illinois researchers finds that middle-aged participants with higher levels of lutein – a nutrient found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, as well as avocados and eggs — had neural responses that were more on par with younger individuals than with their peers. The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.
Lutein rich foods like spinach and kale are already favorites of those looking to stay physically fit. But the new study shows that they also could keep consumers cognitively fit.
Most other studies have focused on older adults, after there has already been a period of decline. The Illinois researchers chose to focus on 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 cognitive and physical decline. Research has shown that this process can start early in life, with some differences as early as the 30s. Lutein is a nutrient that the body can’t make on its own, so it must be acquired through diet. Lutein accumulates in brain tissues, but also accumulates in the eye, which allows researchers to measure levels without relying on invasive techniques.
The Illinois researchers measured lutein in the study participants’ eyes by having participants look into a scope and respond to a flickering light. Then, using electrodes on the scalp, the researchers measured neural activity in the brain while the participants performed a task that tested attention.
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. 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.
Other recent research shows that lutein also protects eyesight against damaging blue light from computer screens and mobile phones. Higher lutein levels are also associated with better heart health, and lower rates of several types of cancer. Lutein also reduces the risk of diabetes, and increases skin health.
What’s not to like about lutein?
Learn more about which of these lutein rich foods you can grow at home or buy next time you go to the grocery store.
Lutein is one of more than 600 different carotenoid antioxidants. These are other carotenoid rich vegetables you should consider adding to your diet.
Don’t limit yourself solely to vegetables high in carotenoids, though. Polyphenols are also positively associated with health. Learn more about these well studied high polyphenol rich fruits and vegetables.