Lutein and zeaxanthin during pregnancy may benefit child development

By Olivia DeSmit

- Last updated on GMT

© dragana991 / Getty Images Plus
© dragana991 / Getty Images Plus

Related tags Carotenoid Lutein Zeaxanthin pregnancy

Maternal consumption of lutein and zeaxanthin carotenoids may improve offspring language and cognitive development in early childhood, according to a study led by City University of New York and SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University researchers.

Findings also indicated that women with gestational diabetes mellitus had decreased levels of lutein in cord blood, suggesting a need for increased lutein and zeaxanthin intake in this group.

The study, published in the journal Nutrients,​ was supported in part by research grants from the City University of New York and from the American Egg Board/Egg Nutrition Center.

Benefits of lutein and zeaxanthin

The researchers noted that while lutein and zeaxanthin (both primarily found in foods such as leafy greens, egg yolks and corn) have been researched for the preservation of cognitive function in aging adults, the effects of exposure in early life on cognitive development of children is rarely explored. 

“Although lutein is not the most abundant carotenoid in the diet or circulation, its concentration proportion in the brain is much higher, and more so in the brains of infants, constituting 60% of the total accumulated carotenoids compared to 35% in the brains of older adults,” the researchers wrote.

They cited a study showing transfer rate of lutein from mother to fetus​ is the highest of all carotenoids and is the predominant carotenoid found in placenta and cord blood; as well as previous research​ indicating that maternal lutein and zeaxanthin consumption during the first and second trimesters are correlated with better behavior regulation ability and verbal intelligence in mid-childhood.

Study details

Participants included 76 pregnant women between 25 and 33 weeks gestation, 40 of which had gestational diabetes mellitus. Intake of lutein and zeaxanthin was measured via dietary recall. 

In addition to outcome measures during pregnancy and delivery, including cord blood analyses, 38 of the children completed a development test and had cortisol levels measured two years after delivery.

Increase lutein and zeaxanthin intake during pregnancy was correlated with better cognitive and language scoring in 2-year-olds, regardless of whether the mother had gestational diabetes mellitus. No association with motor skills was found, and an analysis of other carotenoids showed no association with test scores. Mothers with gestational diabetes mellitus showed reduced cord blood lutein levels at birth.

“As such, increasing L + Z intake of GDM pregnant mothers may be a solution to eliminate the negative influence of GDM on language and cognitive development of children,” the authors wrote.

In addition, cortisol levels in the two-year-old children were slightly higher for those with mothers with gestational diabetes mellitus. Interestingly, there was no association between maternal intake of lutein and zeaxanthin and cortisol levels in the offspring.

An expected positive relationship between higher intake of lutein and zeaxanthin and levels in maternal blood was not found. Instead, higher intake was associated with lower levels of lutein in maternal blood. The authors attributed this to the small sample size.

Source: Nutrients
2024, 16(2), 328;
“Maternal Lutein Intake during Pregnancies with or without Gestational Diabetes Mellitus and Cognitive Development of Children at 2 Years of Age: A Prospective Observational Study”
Authors: Kadam, I., et al.

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