Eye-Brain Connection: Lutein and Zeaxanthin's Multifaceted Benefits
You've likely heard the age-old saying that 'the eyes are the window to the soul.' But what if we told you that the eyes might also serve as a window to something just as profound—the state of your brain health? They go hand-in-hand, and the nutritional compounds lutein and zeaxanthin are powerful tools to support this eye-brain connection. Lutein and its sister molecule, zeaxanthin, are phytonutrients, which are plant-based compounds that have been studied for their potential roles in promoting health and preventing chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, and neurodegenerative conditions..1 Lutein and zeaxanthin are also richly colored yellow-orange pigments called “carotenoids” and are particularly essential for our eye and brain health.
These carotenoids are found in high amounts in certain fruits and vegetables, particularly leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale, as well as bell peppers, broccoli, avocados, and peas.2,3 However, approximately 90% of Americans do not meet intake recommendations for vegetables, and more specifically, the average depth of intake deficiency for leafy green vegetables varies from 50-80%.4 This creates a significant nutritional gap for important molecules like lutein and zeaxanthin. In addition to reduced consumption of foods containing lutein and zeaxanthin, people may be obtaining less carotenoids from foods due to how these crops are grown. Some studies report higher levels of nutrients such as carotenoids in organically grown fruits and vegetables compared to non-organic.5 Because there are established intake inadequacies in food sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, it’s important to take a close look at how much of these nutrients you consume to ensure you’re not missing out on their impressive health benefits.
The Eye-Brain Connection
The role of lutein and zeaxanthin in supporting eye health is well-evidenced by medical and scientific research. These pigments are found in the retina and help protect the eye from damage caused by blue light, and they improve visual acuity. Lutein and zeaxanthin help protect the eyes by serving as antioxidants and eliminating harmful molecules that can cause significant damage. In fact, lutein and zeaxanthin levels in the eyes have been associated with a reduced risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.3
The benefits of lutein and zeaxanthin go beyond the eye and into the brain via the eye-brain connection. Given that the eyes are an extension of the central nervous system, it's no surprise these carotenoids are not just rich in the eye, but also rich in the brain.6 We can use this eye-brain connection to learn a lot about the brain by looking at the eyes. The levels of lutein and zeaxanthin in the macula (the part of the retina where they are found) are related to lutein and zeaxanthin levels in the brain.7 Taking this link a step further, an optometrist can see the level of pigmentation in the eyes, known as macular pigment ocular density, and can relate that to their cognitive functioning and their likelihood of developing MCI (mild cognitive impairment).7 In this way, lutein and zeaxanthin act as a “window” to the brain as pigments in the eye.
Understanding How Lutein and Zeaxanthin Benefit Brain Health
Since lutein and zeaxanthin are highly concentrated in the brain, they have been well-studied and associated with numerous brain health benefits. In fact, the latest research from Massachusetts General Hospital recently reported “the brains that were the highest in concentration of lutein and zeaxanthin in their diet had a 50% lower risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease and had higher cognitive performance.”8 This late-breaking research suggests an important role that lutein and zeaxanthin may play in protecting the brain from age-related disease.
Lower levels of lutein and zeaxanthin may mean that the brain misses out on these powerful neuroprotective effects:2,9
- Antioxidative and Anti-Inflammatory Protection: Lutein and zeaxanthin may help to protect the brain from oxidative stress by neutralizing harmful free radicals, which reduces damage to brain cells, particularly along their cell walls.
- Aid in Neuronal Communication and Improve White Matter Integrity: White matter is the fibrous network in the brain involved in sending signals between different areas, so improving the integrity of white matter may enhance the efficiency of communication and support optimal brain function, including memory, attention, and learning.10
- Support Blood Flow to the Brain: By supporting healthy blood circulation, these nutrients ensure that the brain receives a sufficient supply of oxygen and other nutrients, which is crucial to help nourish the brain.11
- Slowed Rate of Cognitive Decline: Generally, lutein and zeaxanthin may help slow down age-related cognitive decline, promoting brain longevity and preserving cognitive function.12
What Else Does Lutein and Zeaxanthin Benefit When it Comes to Health?
Aside from their benefits for eye and brain health, lutein and zeaxanthin have been associated with other health benefits. For example, lutein and zeaxanthin have been shown to support skin health by helping reduce skin damage from light, especially ultraviolet light.13 The antioxidative properties of lutein and zeaxanthin are the secret weapon that helps prevent damage to the skin which can occur due to prolonged sunlight exposure. Research also suggests a role for lutein and zeaxanthin in improving cardiovascular health, including reducing risk for coronary artery disease and atherosclerosis. Additionally, lutein is thought to protect heart tissue from damage, and reduce the risk of hypertension.14
Dosage of Lutein and Zeaxanthin for a Healthy Brain and Lasting Brain Health
Are you excited to take advantage of the health benefits associated with lutein and zeaxanthin? Start with upping your intake of lutein- and zeaxanthin-rich foods, especially spinach and kale, where one cup (uncooked) can provide a healthy dose to cover you for the day. If you’re considering supplementation, research suggests supplementing 5-10 mg per day of lutein. This is based upon the amounts of lutein consumed in observational and clinical studies associated with brain health outcomes, as well as the amount of lutein consumed in a brain-healthy diet such as the MIND/Mediterranean dietary patterns.12, 14-17 Zeaxanthin dosages come from the 5:1 ratio of lutein to zeaxanthin. This is found naturally in lutein-rich foods, leading to 1-2 mg of zeaxanthin.14
When it comes to our nutritional supplement RELEVATE, it provides lutein and zeaxanthin in a natural 5:1 (lutein:zeaxanthin) ratio to close gaps and align with brain healthy, lutein-rich foods such as spinach and kale. Learn more about RELEVATE by visiting here.
By now, orange and yellow should be our new favorite colors! Support your eye-brain connection with lutein and zeaxanthin!
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