Advances in the field of nutritional cognitive neuroscience have led researchers to conclude that specific nutrients, found in specific foods, have beneficial effects on brain aging and can help slow down the loss of executive brain functions such as planning, problem solving and memory. But scientists are just beginning to unravel the complex process by which individual nutrients and dietary patterns benefit the brain over time. In a study published in Frontiers of Aging Neuroscience, researchers proposed that lutein—a nutrient found in spinach, egg yolks and other foods that is already known to protect against age-related macular degeneration—is associated with the preservation of “crystallized intelligence,” or the intelligence you develop over the course of a lifetime.
In this study, the researchers not only confirmed the relationship between lutein and crystallized intelligence, they identified the particular area of the brain—the parahippocampal cortex—that facilitates the relationship between this nutrient and the aging brain. They found that those with higher levels of lutein in their blood also have more gray matter in this region of the brain, indicating healthy aging of the brain.
The next step for researchers is to figure out exactly how lutein affects the structure of the parahippocampal cortex. Meanwhile, whether they eventually find that it is lutein’s known anti-inflammatory properties that protect the brain from the potentially devastating effects of aging, or something else, your next step is to make sure you get plenty of this important nutrient in your diet. That shouldn’t be too difficult, since lutein is found in a variety of fresh foods. Those with the most lutein include:
In short, you now have one more good reason to eat a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables (along with your eggs, if you like).
Zamroziewicz MK, Paul EJ, Zwilling CE et al. Parahippocampal cortex mediates the relationship between lutein and crystallized intelligence in healthy, older adults. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. 6 December 2016.
Zamroziewicz MK and Barbey AK. Nutritional Cognitive Neuroscience: Innovations for Healthy Brain Aging. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. 6 June 2016;
Sommerburg O, Keunen JE, Bird AC, van Kuijk FJGM. Fruits and vegetables that are sources for lutein and zeaxanthin: the macular pigment in human eyes. British Journal of Ophthalmology. 1998;82:907-910