Abbott Nutrition study: Maternal lutein supplementation passes to child

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Lutein is found in dark leafy greens in the diet, while marigold flowers (above) are the established commercial source of lutein
Lutein is found in dark leafy greens in the diet, while marigold flowers (above) are the established commercial source of lutein

Related tags Lutein Breastfeeding Milk

Supplementing lactating women with lutein is an effective way of raising the lutein status of the breast-feeding infant, says a new study from Abbott Nutrition with potential implications for eye and cognitive health of children.

Daily supplements of lutein (Floraglo Lutein from Kemin Industries) at doses of 6 or 12 milligrams per day for new mothers for six weeks resulted in significant increases in the lutein concentrations in the breast milk, maternal plasma, and the infant’s plasma in a dose-dependent manner, according to results published in the Journal of Nutrition​.

“Whether or not lutein can affect cognitive development early in life is not yet known,”​ wrotethe researchers, led by Christina Sherry, PhD, RD. “Nonetheless, breast milk or infant formula is the sole source of nutrition during this critical period of development. Given the relation between intake of lutein by the breastfeeding mother, infant plasma concentrations, and the importance of lutein as an antioxidant and in eye health, it is prudent that lactating women consume adequate lutein from the diet or supplements to ensure adequate concentrations in breast milk for infant growth and development.”

Lutein and the brain

Brain 4x3
Lutein is the dominant carotenoid in pediatric brains

An interview with leading lutein researcher Dr Liz Johnson from Tufts University this week on NutraIngredients-USA​ discussed the compelling evidence linking lutein and cognitive function. Commenting on the new study, Dr Johnson told us: “An investigation of lutein’s role in early cognitive development is warranted.

“We have found that lutein is the dominant carotenoid (about 60% of the total) in pediatric (0-11 months) brain tissue [Vishwanathan ​et al, ​Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition]. This is not likely due to dietary intakes, as NHANES data finds that lutein is about 12% of total intake,”​ she said. “Therefore, just as in the macula, where there is preferential uptake of lutein over the hundreds of other carotenoids, there appears to be preferential uptake for lutein into pediatric brain tissue as well.”

Study details

Dr Sherry and her co-workers recruited 89 lactating women who had given birth four to six weeks earlier and randomly assigned them to one of three lutein dose groups: 0 mg/d of lutein (placebo), or 6 or 12 milligrams per day of the carotenoid.

After six weeks of intervention, the results showed that total lutein + zeaxanthin concentrations increased in the low and high dose groups by 140% and 250%, respectively, in breast milk, compared with placebo. Increases of 170% and 250% were observed in maternal plasma for the low- and high-dose groups, respectively, while total lutein + zeaxanthin concentrations in the infant plasma increased by 180% and 330% in the low- and high-dose groups, respectively.

Levels of other carotenoids in lactating women or their infants were unaffected by lutein supplementation, said the researchers.

“This is the first longitudinal study, to our knowledge, to report the breast milk and plasma concentrations of carotenoids 2-3 months postpartum and to investigate the effect of lutein supplementation during this period,”​ wrote Dr Sherry and her co-workers.

Source: Journal of Nutrition
Volume 144, pp. 1256-1263, doi: 10.3945/jn.114.192914
“Lutein Supplementation Increases Breast Milk and Plasma Lutein Concentrations in Lactating Women and in Infant Plasma Concentrations but Does Not Affect Other Carotenoids”
Authors: C.L. Sherry, J.S. Oliver, L.M. Renzi, B.J. Marriage

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