RELEVATE Nutrients

Lutein and Zeaxanthin

Key Food Groups: Dark Leafy Greens

Lutein and Zeaxanthin: Role in Brain Health

Lutein and its sister molecule, zeaxanthin, are yellow-orange-colored carotenoids that preferentially concentrate in the brain and eyes. An interesting fact is that the measure of lutein and zeaxanthin in the eye’s macula (central retina) is considered an accurate representation of their levels in the brain. This test is called the macular pigment optical density (MPOD) test – making the eyes a veritable window to the brain.1–3 The relationship between lutein and zeaxanthin and visual and cognitive health throughout life is compelling.4

Lutein and zeaxanthin are known for their antioxidative and anti-inflammatory qualities in the eye and brain along with the role they play in neuronal communication.5 These carotenoids can be found abundantly within neuronal cell membranes that are especially rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (including DHA), and they are positioned in the membrane in a way to block oxidation of these vulnerable brain fats. This not only may preserve the integrity and fluidity of the cell membrane structures, but it also may protect brain-healthy fats like DHA so they can be converted into anti-inflammatory molecules.6 Without lutein and zeaxanthin, neuro-destructive mechanisms may continue chronically until their progression into neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.7

Intake Deficiency and Relevance

There is no officially recommended dietary intake for lutein or zeaxanthin; however, there is a broad and deep intake deficiency in dark green vegetables (e.g. spinach, kale, broccoli), which are the dominant sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, based on the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.8,9 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 50-70%.10 Greater awareness of such deficiency is important, since higher lutein status is related to better cognitive performance, and lutein supplementation improves cognition.4

RELEVATE’s Form of Lutein and Zeaxanthin

RELEVATE contains lutein and zeaxanthin in a natural ratio of 5:1 (lutein:zeaxanthin), based on what is found in lutein-rich foods.11 As mentioned, lutein and zeaxanthin are the dominant carotenoids in the brain (70%)5 and are found accumulated in the brain in high concentrations across multiple life stages,6 suggesting these nutrients are associated with a significant and long-lasting role in brain health.

Concluding Thoughts to Consider

A variety of studies build support for a positive association between lutein and zeaxanthin intake and slower cognitive decline12 and decreased severity of dementia.13 Also, an exploratory clinical study demonstrated improvements in cognitive measures (i.e. verbal fluency, memory scores, rate of learning) with supplemental lutein and a combination of lutein and DHA.14 Also, blood levels of lutein were directly correlated with better cognitive performance, which was then linked with lutein measures in the brain (after deceased).13 Taken together, (i) the existing (and growing) evidence supporting their involvement in cognitive ability, (ii) their preferential accumulation in the brain, and (iii) their likely intake inadequacy at the population level, makes for a strong motivation to include lutein and zeaxanthin in a brain protective nutritional regimen.


Cited Research

  1. Scott, M. T., Rasmussen, M. H., Chen, O. & Johnson, J. E. Avocado Consumption Increases Macular Pigment Density in Older Adults: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Nutrients 9, (2017).
  2. Vishwanathan, R., Neuringer, M., Max Snodderly, D., Schalch, W. & Johnson, E. J. Macular lutein and zeaxanthin are related to brain lutein and zeaxanthin in primates. Nutr. Neurosci. 16, 21–29 (2013).
  3. Vishwanathan, R. et al. Macular pigment optical density is related to cognitive function in older people. Age Ageing 43, 271–275 (2014).
  4. Johnson, E. J. Role of lutein and zeaxanthin in visual and cognitive function throughout the lifespan. Nutr. Rev. 72, 605–612 (2014).
  5. Johnson, E. J. A possible role for lutein and zeaxanthin in cognitive function in the elderly. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 96, 1161S-1165S (2012).
  6. Mohn, E. S. & Johnson, E. J. Lutein and Cognition Across the Lifespan. Nutr. Today 52, 183–189 (2017).
  7. Wang, W., Shinto, L., Connor, W. E. & Quinn, J. F. Nutritional Biomarkers in Alzheimer’s Disease: The Association between Carotenoids, n-3 Fatty Acids, and Dementia Severity. J. Alzheimer’s Dis. 13, 31–38 (2008).
  8. US Department of Agriculture & US Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. (2010).
  9. Moore, L. V & Thompson, F. E. Adults Meeting Fruit and Vegetable Intake Recommendations – United States, 2013. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report 64, (U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 2015).
  10. Guenther, P. M., Dodd, K. W., Reedy, J. & Krebs-Smith, S. M. Most Americans Eat Much Less than Recommended Amounts of Fruits and Vegetables. J. Am. Diet. Assoc. 106, 1371–1379 (2006).
  11. Abdel-Aal, E.-S. M., Akhtar, H., Zaheer, K. & Ali, R. Dietary sources of lutein and zeaxanthin carotenoids and their role in eye health. Nutrients 5, 1169–1185 (2013).
  12. Nooyens, A. C. J. et al. Diet and cognitive decline at middle age: The role of antioxidants. Br. J. Nutr. 113, 1410–1417 (2015).
  13. Johnson, E. J. et al. Relationship between serum and brain carotenoids, α -tocopherol, and retinol concentrations and cognitive performance in the oldest old from the georgia centenarian study. J. Aging Res. 2013, (2013).
  14. Johnson, E. J. et al. Cognitive findings of an exploratory trial of docosahexaenoic acid and lutein supplementation in older women. Nutr. Neurosci. 11, 75–83 (2008).