It has been long established that diet has a direct effect on brain health and mental function in so many ways.  The brain’s structure makes it prone to inflammation and oxidative damage, and diet, whether good or bad, plays a key role in this process.
The nutrients we take through food take part in the basic functioning of neural cells, from providing building blocks to supporting neurotransmitter synthesis, and much more.
However, when it comes to brain health, most research has focused on micronutrients, like B vitamins, as you know that they’re important for your brain.
However, lately, some of the research has been focusing on xanthophylls, more precisely lutein (L), found in orange-yellow fruits and leafy vegetables, and zeaxanthin (Z), found in leafy vegetables, spirulina, paprika, saffron, and corn. Both L and Z are known to protect your eyes.
What are xanthophylls?
Xanthophylls are yellow pigments in plants that contain oxygen, and they’re one of two major groups of carotenoids. Carotenoids, on the other hand, are phytonutrients and they possess great antioxidant abilities.
However, previous research has mostly focused on older adults prone to cognitive decline. Therefore, a group of researchers from the USA wanted to see how lutein and zeaxanthin supplements would affect the mental performance of young healthy adults.
Here’s what they discovered.
The participants were 51 healthy college students in the age range of 18 to 30, split into two groups, a placebo one and the L+Z supplement one.
There were some noticeable differences in the participants who were taking the supplements.
In the researchers’ own words: “The most significant effect according to treatment was visual memory: the treated group changed but the placebos did not.”
Visual memory is the relationship between processing and storing information you’ve seen, and being able to recall it when needed.
Visual memory together with attention and processing speed has been linked to reasoning ability.
Thus, this study shows that lutein and zeaxanthin cater to all three of these cognitive functions.
In comparing previous clinical trials that were focusing on older adults prone to neurodegenerative diseases with young healthy adults who are considered to be cognitively at their most agile, the researchers added:
“In our study, the xanthophyll intervention was related to all three of these variables: visual memory, complex attention, and reasoning ability.
The fact that L + Z supplementation was related specifically to these variables in the younger adults may not be coincidence. As noted, these three cognitive functions are, in some ways, related to each other.
Our results further suggest, however, that they are physiologically connected in a way that xanthophylls could improve, even in the young, who are, theoretically, also near ceiling in these functions.”
That said, lutein and zeaxanthin seem to be quite promising in their effects on mental performance.
Of course, more studies are needed on this particular age group, but it seems that these xanthophylls are now gaining more attention for their effects on brain health, and we just might expect some more studies.
Resource: Renzi-Hammond, L.M.; Bovier, E.R.; Fletcher, L.M.; Miller, L.S.; Mewborn, C.M.; Lindbergh, C.A.; Baxter, J.H.; Hammond, B.R. Effects of a Lutein and Zeaxanthin Intervention on Cognitive Function: A Randomized, Double-Masked, Placebo-Controlled Trial of Younger Healthy Adults. Nutrients 2017, 9, 1246. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9111246