As if you didn’t already have enough reason to prioritize eating your leafy green vegetables, recent research out of the University of Illinois suggests that a nutrient found abundantly in leafy greens called lutein may help prevent cognitive decline.
What is Lutein?
Known primarily for its role in maintaining eye health and vision, lutein is a carotenoid thats is found in many fruits and vegetables.
Lutein is found notably in leafy greens such as spinach and kale, avocados, carrots, and egg yolks.
Lutein is a naturally occurring substance that cannot be synthesized by the human body. Therefore, it must be absorbed from foods that synthesize it, such as those mentioned above, or from nutritional supplements.
Previous research has shown that lutein can help prevent cataracts, reduce eye strain and sensitivity, strengthen eye tissue, and support visual acuity. Some evidence even suggests that lutein can help reduce inflammation in those with heart disease.
Now, thanks to this new study from the University of Illinois, we know that the benefits of lutein are even more far-reaching than previously thought. The new research, published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, shows that lutein also has a positive effect on markers of cognitive health.
Lead researcher Dr. Naiman A. Khan, of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Illinois, and his colleagues began with the observation that cognitive decline can often begin early on in life.
Most research on age-related cognitive decline is done on elderly adults and therefore not much is known about how the process unfolds earlier in life.
Anne Walk, one of the study’s authors, explains that “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.”
For this reason, the researchers chose to focus their efforts on examining a sample of 60 adults aged 25 to 45. What they found is that middle-aged participants with higher levels of the carotenoid lutein had neural responses that were more similar to younger individuals than with their peers.
“Now there’s an additional reason to eat nutrient-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, eggs and avocados,” said Dr. Khan. “We know these foods are related to other health benefits, but these data indicate that there may be cognitive benefits as well.”
Luckily, the measurement of lutein levels is relatively easy. This is due to the fact the lutein can be detected in two primary areas of the body: the brain and the retina of the eye.
Determining brain based levels of lutein is a difficult and invasive process, but levels in the retina are much easier to measure.
Lutein levels in the eye are measured using what is called macular pigment optical density (MPOD).
The study participants were asked to engage in cognitive control tasks which are used as an indicator of cognitive function.
Participants looked into a scope and responded to the actions of a flickering light. The researchers used electrodes attached to the scalp to measure neural activity in the brain while the participants performed a task that tested their 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,” Said 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.”
Eat Your Leafy Greens
If you want to age gracefully and prevent the loss of your cognitive faculty, then you have one more reason to make sure that you eat your leafy green vegetables.
Despite all the controversy and disagreement in the field of nutrition, the one thing almost everyone agrees on is to everyone needs to eat more vegetables.
Leafy greens not only provide ample amounts of lutein but they are also loaded with chlorophyll, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. There is no better prescription for a healthy body and mind!
To supplement your daily greens consumption, use Dr. Colbert’s specially formulated Fermented Green Supremefood in your juice and smoothies.