Lutein, a molecule found in paprika and leafy greens, may be one of the key components for preventing brain-related aging . A 2017 Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience study brought this compound further into the mainstream after scientists concluded that lutein was a key molecule that corresponded with more youthful brains.
In addition to this evidence, there are other studies showing lutein improves reaction time and processing speed , which are both vital cognitive processes. Other research suggests lutein can be an effective antioxidant and supports longevity and antiaging .
While ample evidence shows the benefits of lutein and some even mention supplementation, there are many food sources of this nutrient that everyone can take advantage of.
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Editors’ Thoughts on Lutein
My recommendation would be to first eat as many vegetables and fruits that contain lutein as possible before supplementing. I don’t think supplements are bad, but the total nutritional value of fruits and vegetables is so much greater than supplementing with all the micro and macronutrients we know exist in these foods.
I am optimistic about the results in recent studies on lutein. To see scientists concluding that supplementation may be effective (especially for elderly people) is encouraging.
Mansal Denton, Nootropedia Editor
Benefits of Lutein
Until recently, the main benefits of lutein were not well known besides as an antioxidant. Specifically, lutein benefits appear to be reducing oxidative stress in cells around the eyes . This pigment (along with a similar compound called zeaxanthin) accumulate in cells around the eye, which can help to preserve eyesight.
It wasn’t until recently that lutein was implicated as a potential tool for reducing neurological decline and enhancing performance especially in old age. In one 2017 Journal of the International Neuropsychology Society study, scientists used fMRI brain scans to find lutein could increase neural efficiency . By doing this, cognitive performance also increases.
The same year, a study was published that found supplementation of lutein (and zeaxanthin) could help to increase complex attention, cognitive flexibility, executive function, and (in males) composite memory .
Most of the evidence suggests that lutein is most effective for assisting in cognitive abilities later in life (in old age). While we still need more evidence to confirm these lutein benefits for young adults, it is a relatively low-risk way of protecting our brains from future damage.
Side Effects of Lutein
There do not seem to be any side effects of lutein as a molecule. Because lutein is a major constituent in spinach, kale, carrots, and paprika, it is easy to reason why there are few side effects associated with this nutrient.
That being said, the lutein side effects may be different in the supplemental form. As science has shown before (such as the example with folate and folic acid), having a molecule from our diet is very different than supplementing with that substance.
Although it is good to see lutein studies using supplements (rather than simply looking at lutein content in each individual), it still remains to be seen what the side effects might be especially when considering dosage and long-term implications.
A diet that is high in vegetables and fruits (and thus lutein) is said to contain around 2.3 mg of lutein per day . Within the study of adults and cognitive decline, the dosage scientists gave was upwards of 12 mg per day (of both lutein + zeaxanthin) .
If you are going to take a lutein dosage above 10 mg per day, make sure to be mindful. We recommend anywhere from 5 – 20 mg of lutein per day based on the available (though sparse) data.
How and Where to Buy Lutein
Lutein is relatively new for nootropics enthusiasts and improving cognitive performance, but it has been around for many years to aid in eyesight and eye health. If you buy lutein at a local health food store you will probably pay more than simply finding an online source.
There does not seem to be much risk associated with lutein for sale online except for the dosages. Some of the products are relatively high doses compared to the studies and the daily amount of lutein one consumes in a healthful diet.
One reputable brand is Jarrow Formulas, which has a combined lutein and zeaxanthin product that is mostly marketed for eyesight and eye health. The dosage on this product is slightly high (around 20 mg lutein and 4 pm zeaxanthin), but it is possible to break each of the pills in half if needed (or take every other day).
Most of the lutein reviews are going to revolve around use for improving eyesight and preserving this function. Because of this, there are few lutein reviews that say anything about cognitive function or longevity. Also, consider that most people who are looking for a way to improve their eyesight are already suffering from diminished vision. Usually lutein alone cannot help them.
These important caveats can help us to better scan community reviews of lutein with a grain of salt while also benefiting from the experiences of others.