Lutein: Studies on Cognition, Vision

Here’s a way to double up your fun with the nutrient lutein. Did you know that the antioxidant lutein, along with carotenoids like zeaxanthin, shows promise in helping eye health, vision, cognition, and memory? Additionally, studies show lutein offers positive benefits for young children when mom takes lutein during her pregnancy. Take a look at the study summaries shown here and evaluate for yourself the health benefits of lutein and zeaxanthin.


  • Lutein Slows Advanced AMD

Lutein is one of the main carotenoids in the macula of the eye that is responsible for filtering damaging blue light, and for protecting against age-related macular degeneration (AMD); a blind spot in the center of the field of vision.

In this study, doctors evaluated 963 men and women, aged at least 73, every two years over an eight-year period, during which 54 developed advanced AMD. Those with higher circulating lutein levels were 37 percent less likely to have developed advanced AMD.

Also, those with higher lutein levels compared to total cholesterol and triglyceride levels were 41 percent less likely to develop advanced AMD.

Doctors said measuring circulating lutein levels is a good way to identify those who are deficient, and who may have higher chances of developing AMD.

Reference: Nutrients; 2021, Vol. 13, No. 6, 10.3390/nu13062047

Woman researching eye health

  • Lutein, Zeaxanthin Reduce Amyloid Plaques and 
Slow AD

This study followed 927 older adults who were free of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) at the start of a seven-year follow-up period. Overall, those who got the most total carotenoids, including lutein and zeaxanthin, consumed an average 24.8 mg per day, and those who got the least consumed 6.7 mg per day.

In those who died during the study, AD development was less advanced in those who got more carotenoids. Lutein and zeaxanthin, in particular, were beneficial for global brain conditions, and for improving AD factors including reducing plaque severity, and protein tau tangles density and severity. Overall, higher intakes of total carotenoids reduced the chances of developing AD.

Reference: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; 2021, Vol. 113, No. 1, 200–8


  • Lutein, Zeaxanthin During Pregnancy Boost Kid’s Vision at Age 3

The dark green and orange-colored fruits and vegetables contain the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, and mothers’ higher levels during pregnancy meant better eyesight in their offspring. In this study, doctors measured lutein and zeaxanthin levels during pregnancy, and at delivery, then followed up with the children at age three.

Kids whose mothers had higher levels of either lutein or zeaxanthin during pregnancy were 37 to 38 percent less likely to have poor visual acuity at age three compared to kids whose mothers had lower levels of these two carotenoids.

The results remained significant even after doctors adjusted for whether mothers breastfed their babies or differences in the children’s diets of fruits and vegetables.

Reference: Nutrients; Vol. 12, No. 2, 10.3390/nu12020274


  • Mother’s Lutein Improved Behavior at Age 8

Recent research reveals most of the carotenoids in young brain tissue is lutein, and while lutein promotes cognitive function in adults, little is known about prenatal lutein, when the brain develops most rapidly. In this study, doctors measured lutein in the diets of 1,126 mothers during the first and second trimesters, then followed up when their children reached eight years of age.

Using a food frequency questionnaire, doctors determined mothers got an average of 1.8 mg of lutein per day during the first and second trimesters. Compared to those who got less lutein, mothers who got more lutein while pregnant reported fewer behavioral problems in their children at age eight. The improvements in behavior increased as the amount of lutein in the diet increased, and accelerated as mothers continued lutein into the second trimester.

Reference: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; 2019, Vol. 119, No. 10, A131


  • Carotenoids Protect the Eye and Boost Cognition

The deep yellow and orange pigments, in the macula of the eye, called carotenoids, protect the eyes from damaging blue light. Now, new research suggests important links to cognition for these essential nutrients.

In this study, 59 healthy adults took a placebo or 10.86 mg of lutein, 2.27 mg of zeaxanthin, plus meso-zeaxanthin; or double these carotenoid amounts, per day. After six months, macular pigment density measured at the eye retina had significantly increased in both carotenoid groups.

Doctors also measured cognitive factors and, in the carotenoid groups, found significant increases in a protein that promotes the growth and survival of nerve cells (neurons), known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. At the same time, levels decreased for an inflammatory factor, interleukin-1-beta (Il-1β) that can lower BDNF levels.

In tests of cognition, while the placebo group did not change, both carotenoid groups saw improved scores in verbal memory, sustained attention, and physical and mental reaction times.

Discussing the findings, doctors said the changes in BDNF and Il-1β over the course of the study suggest regularly consuming macular carotenoids interrupts the inflammatory cascade that can lower BDNF levels, helping to preserve vision and cognition.

Reference: Physiology & Behavior; 2019, 112650; Published Online


  • Lutein Linked to Better Memory

Carotenoids, the colorful antioxidants in fruits and vegetables, accumulate in brain nerve tissue. The carotenoid lutein supports eye health, but lutein is also important for the brain. Earlier studies show about 60 percent of the carotenoids in brain tissue are lutein, but lutein makes up only about 12 percent of carotenoids in the typical diet.

In this study, doctors measured circulating and dietary carotenoids in 94 adults, aged 25 to 45. Participants then completed a task of reconstructing a three-dimensional object from memory. After adjusting for age, gender, and body mass index scores, lutein was the only carotenoid linked to better memory performance in the 3D object reconstruction test.

Reference: Nutrients; March, 2019, Published Online


Isn’t nutrition amazing? Can lutein really do all that in the human eye and brain? Studies are ongoing so you got just a sneak peak at where they are currently. Decide how to protect your valuable assets above the neck supporting eyes and brain.

Look for the freshest batch of dark leafy greens you can buy for a good food source of lutein and fellow carotenoids. This would be kale, collards, spinach, broccoli, brussel sprouts, chard and dark green lettuce. Also, find the nutrient in corn, peas, green beans and especially eggs. Don’t forget squash, whether summer or winter varieties, and also citrus fruit.

Eat natural foods in their most basic form prior to commercial processing. Capture fruit and vegetable nutrients raw or cooked immediately after your own preparation.

Beyond that, lutein supplements are also available for a concentrated dose when diet alone isn’t sufficient.