Can nutrients improve brain function?

By Karin Lillis • Published: February 6th, 2017
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

When your mother tells you to eat your vegetables, pay attention. Current dietary guidelines recommend filling half your plate with fruits and veggies, the more colorful the better. Consuming fruits and veggies in all shades of the rainbow offers a variety of nutritional benefits, from heart-healthy antioxidants to compounds that reduce the risk of cancer.

A study from researchers at the University of Georgia suggests that eating brightly colored vegetables may also improve brain function in older adults.

Antioxidants called carotenoids (kuh-ROT-n-oids) give certain plants and vegetables a bright hue. Earlier studies have shown that specific carotenoids — lutein (LOO-tee-in) and zeaxanthin (zee-uh-ZAN-thin) — might improve cognitive health among older adults. The two nutrients are found in some leafy greens or in other green or yellow vegetables.

The research team used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain activity among 40 patients ages 65 to 86 while they tried to recall word pairings. They determined the amount of lutein and zeaxanthan via blood samples and retinal testing.Those with higher levels of the nutrients in their systems were more “neurally efficient” than those with lower levels of the antioxidants, who required more brain power and relied more on various parts of the brain to recall the word pairings. In those cases, the team said the brain can shift into “overdrive” to compensate for diminished cognitive function.

The team said more studies are needed to determine the effects of dietary changes and nutritional supplements on levels of lutein and zeaxanthan and cognitive function.

So give your brain a break — and load up on the veggies.