A nutrient found in leafy vegetables may effectively revitalise cognitive functions, according to a new study. Researchers in the U.S. have discovered that lutein, an organic pigment and nutrient found in spinach, kale, avocados, and eggs, may be effective in rejuvenating cognitive functions.
Nutritionists have long discussed health benefits of green foods such as spinach, kale and other leafy vegetables.
A recent study found that lutein may decrease inflammation from heart disease.
The new research was conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in collaboration with the University of Georgia in Athens, in the U.S. Dr. Naiman A. Khan, of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Illinois, led the research.
Dr. Khan and colleagues based their study on the assumption that cognitive ageing becomes evident earlier in life than one might expect.
While, past studies monitored cognitive ageing in elderly adults only, researchers on this new study sought a different approach. [Read more Eating turmeric, red grapes, apple peels could help ‘starve’ prostate cancer cells]
“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,” says first study author Anne Walk, a postdoctoral researcher also at the University of Illinois.
For their study, the team enrolled 60 adults aged between 25-45, to investigate whether or not lutein intake may impact cognition.
Lutein, the vegetable nutrient, is a naturally occurring compound that cannot be synthesised in the human body, explain the researchers. Therefore, it must be absorbed from foods that synthesise it, such as kale and other green leafy vegetables, or through food supplements.
Once lutein is incorporated in the body, it can be detected in the brain tissue and in the retinas of the eyes. This makes the assessment of lutein levels more appropriate and enables taking of non-invasive measurements.
“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,” says Walk.
In the study, the participants were asked to respond to flickering light stimuli, so that the researchers could measure lutein levels. [Read more Chocolate may boost cognitive skills within hours]
The team assessed the neural activity in the brains of the subjects through electrodes attached to the scalp. Each individual was assigned an attention-related exercise. These exercises were designed to test their selective attention, attentional inhibition (the ability to ignore irrelevant stimuli), or response inhibition (the ability to suppress inappropriate impulses).
The team discovered that the participants who showed higher levels of lutein were cognitively more similar to younger individuals than they were to individuals of the same age with lower lutein levels.
“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. 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,” explains Walk.
Next, the researchers plan to investigate how consuming a larger amount of vegetable nutrient lutein may impact the level of the carotenoid accumulated in the retina, and to what degree lutein levels actually influence cognitive capacity.
“In this study we focused on attention, but we also would like to understand the effects of lutein on learning and memory,” concludes Dr. Khan.
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.