Fill up on all those leafy vegetables. A research by the University of Illinois finds a difference in cognitive function between younger and middle-age participants with higher and lower lutein levels. Lutein is a nutrient that the body can’t make on its own but it can be acquired through diet. As well as green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, it is also found in foods such as avocados and eggs.
Most previous studies have looked at lutein levels in older adults, after there has already been a period of cognitive decline, however the new study recruited 60 participants aged 25 to 45. “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,” said Anne Walk, first author of the paper, adding, “We want to understand how diet impacts cognition throughout the lifespan. If lutein can protect against decline, we should encourage people to consume lutein-rich foods at a point in their lives when it has maximum benefit.”
To measure levels of the nutrient in the participants the researchers looked at the participants’ eyes, where lutein accumulates in the tissue, asking them look into a scope and respond to a flickering light. While the participants performed a task to measure their attention, the researchers used electrodes on the scalps to measure neural activity in the brain.
The results showed that, “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,” explained Walk, adding that, “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.”
“Now, there’s an additional reason to eat nutrient-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, eggs and avocados,” said Naiman Khan, a professor of kinesiology and community health at Illinois, adding, “We know these foods are related to other health benefits, but these data indicate that there may be cognitive benefits as well.” The findings can be found published online in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.