Zeaxanthin linked to better mental performance in the elderly

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Carotenoids, Carotenoid

Increased intake of the carotenoids lycopene and zeaxanthin may
improve the mental performance of the elderly, according to a new
study from France.

Writing in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences​, researchers from the University of Montpellier, University of Paris, and CHU Grenoble, report that low levels of the carotenoids were linked to the lowest levels of cognitive function amongst 589 healthy older people. "To our knowledge, this study is the first that investigated, in a healthy elderly population, the relationship between cognitive performance measured by five neuropsychological tests and the different plasma carotenoids: xanthophylls (lutein, zeaxanthin, beta-cryptoxanthin) and carotenes (lycopene, alpha-carotene,​ trans-beta-carotene, and​ cis-beta-carotene),"​ wrote lead author Tasnime Akbaraly. "In this present study, low levels of specific plasma carotenoids - lycopene and zeaxanthin - were associated to poor cognitive functioning in a highly educated, community-dwelling elderly population,"​ added Akbaraly. Cognitive performance declines naturally with age, but the new research, part of the Etude de Vieillissement Arteriel (EVA) study, reports that this decline may be slowed by increased intake of certain carotenoids. Blood samples for the participants (average age 73.5, 361 women) were taken and carotenoid levels calculated. Cognitive function was measured using a battery of tests, including the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), Trail Making Test Part B (TMTB), Digit Symbol Substitution (DSS), Finger Tapping Test (FTT), and Word Fluency Test (WFT). The researchers report that participants with the lowest cognitive performance scores were more likely to have low levels of some carotenoids. Significant associations were reported between zeaxanthin and all cognitive tests except the MMSE, while low levels of lycopene were associated with poor performance on the TMTB and the DSS. No statistically significant association was observed between the other carotenoids and cognitive performance. "We have no basis to expect specific association between carotenoids and psychometric evaluation,"​ said the authors. "However, it is well known that low plasma lutein and zeaxanthin concentrations were implicated in age-related macular degeneration. Although the retina is a puzzle (the ultimate solution of which lies on the other side of the optic nerve in its connection with the brain), a highly specific accumulation of lutein and zeaxanthin in the retina and in the macula is described. "Could other areas of the brain have the same affinity for some specific carotenoids?"​ they asked. "The biological significance of our findings needs further research by biological studies, longitudinal epidemiological studies, and by specific clinical trials with carotenoid supplementation,"​ concluded the researchers. The research was welcomed by industry. Phil Gowaski, sales and marketing manager for US-based zeaxanthin producer Chrysantis, said: "This is one of the first significant studies to show a definitive link between zeaxanthin levels and cognitive function. This new information gives us the opportunity to help even more people maintain a better quality of life for a longer period of time."​ Source: Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences​ Volume 62A, Number 3, Pages 308-316 "Plasma Carotenoid Levels and Cognitive Performance in an Elderly Population: Results of an EVA Study" ​Authors: N.T. Akbaraly, H. Faure, V. Gourlet, A. Favier, C. Berr

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