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Key Learning from Food & Nutrition Conference: Lutein’s Role in Optimal Eye and Brain Health

Posted January 12, 2022

Should a bioactive carotenoid like lutein with known benefits from infancy to old age be considered an essential nutrient?

Today at the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo, Elizabeth Johnson, PhD, research associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and an associate professor at the School of Medicine, both at Tufts University, and Naiman Khan, PhD, RD,  director of the Body Composition and Nutritional Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, presented the science behind lutein’s support for optimal eye and brain health.

The Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo is promoted as the world’s largest meeting of food and nutrition experts, with attendees such as nutrition science researchers, health care providers and registered dietitian nutritionists.

Research in Children

Dr. Khan shared research showing that children with higher macular pigment optical density (a measure of lutein and zeaxanthin status) exhibit cognitive benefits such as superior executive brain function, relational memory and academic achievement. The benefits to brain performance existed after controlling for IQ. Watch this KeminCast to learn more about lutein for children.

Research in the Elderly

Dr. Johnson looked at lutein’s benefits in the eye and in the brains of adults. As Dr. Khan showed in his data with children, Dr. Johnson reviewed science which showed lutein brain levels are related to improved cognitive functions in the elderly. The review included four randomized, placebo-controlled trials that used FloraGLO Lutein as the lutein source.

Lutein for Everyday Health

While no Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) currently exists for lutein, the literature shows positive effects on eye health from 6 to 10 mg per day. In proposing criteria for considering a DRI for lutein, Randard, et al. outlined many of the milestones that lutein has met. For example, lutein has documented food sources, clinical trials for dose-response, efficacy and safety data.1

The session provided three conclusions from Drs. Khan and Johnson:

  1. Current lutein and zeaxanthin intake from foods is less than 2 mg, far below the level needed for optimal eye and brain health.
  2. Macular pigment optical density (MPOD) provides a measure of both eye and brain lutein and zeaxanthin status.
  3. Children and adults would benefit from increasing lutein consumption from diet and supplements.
Do you think lutein is ready for a DRI?
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1. Banard KM et al. Dietary guidance for lutein: consideration for intake recommendations is scientifically supported. European Journal of Nutrition (2017) 56 (Suppl 3):S37–S42.