Preliminary research demonstrates for the first time that lutein, an important phytonutrient that supports eye health, is the predominant carotenoid present in key areas of the infant brain, including areas that regulate overall brain function, cognition, vision, hearing and speech.
This new research, supported by Abbott, Abbott Park, IL, was presented by Elizabeth Johnson, PhD, a scientist in the Carotenoids and Health Laboratory at Tufts University, at the 16th International Symposium on Carotenoids, in Krakow, Poland.
“To our knowledge this is the first time that research has been conducted to demonstrate that the infant brain appears to preferentially take up more lutein compared to other carotenoids,” said Dr. Johnson, who led the research with coauthors from Abbott and Tufts University and who is a member of Abbott’s Science Nutrition Advisory Board on the Macular Xanthophylls and DHA. “Additional studies may lead to greater understanding of the functional impact of lutein in infant brains.”
Results from the abstract show that lutein concentrations in these important brain regions range from 2.5 to four times that of zeaxanthin and five to six times that of beta-carotene, depending on the specific brain region. Because lutein is not produced by the body, prior to the introduction of solid foods, infants can only obtain lutein from breast milk or formulas that are supplemented with lutein.
“These findings support the hypothesis that during this critical time, lutein may play a role in the brain’s development,” said Robert Miller, PhD, division vice president, Global R&D and Scientific Affairs, Abbott. “Our continued focus and commitment to clinically based nutrition science is what sets us apart from others in the pediatric nutrition category.”
The International Symposium on Carotenoids emphasized research on current and emerging trends in carotenoid research, including the impact of carotenoids on human health, vision, prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer. At the meeting, Abbott also presented a position statement released by its Science and Nutrition Advisory Board on the Macular Xanthophylls and DHA, which, based on several scientific findings, concluded there is a strong need to study the potential benefits of lutein in cognitive development in infants. This statement is based on lutein research conducted in older adults demonstrating cognitive benefits.
Researchers analyzed 92 pre-existing tissue samples from a federally-funded brain and tissue bank. The study objective was to determine carotenoid distribution (including lutein, zeaxanthin, cryptoxanthin and beta-carotene) in the infant hippocampus, frontal, auditory and occipital cortices.