A new study has claimed that foods that contain lutein can improve a child’s academic performance in school and that high levels will lead them to do better in tests, regardless of other factors such as IQ.

Lutein is a pigment found in leafy green vegetables such as broccoli as well as in egg yolks and has been found to increase a child’s general brain health, especially during tests. Experts now suggest children as well as adults consume more lutein in their diets, in order to benefit from its brain boosting effects.


Benefits of Lutein for the Brain

Lutein is called a carotenoid vitamin and is related to beta-carotene and Vitamin A. It is found in broccoli, spinach, kale, corn, orange peppers, kiwis, grapes, orange juice, and squash, as well as egg yolks. It can also be obtained as a food supplement.

Lutein is commonly known as ‘the eye vitamin’ because it can protect the retina and prevent vision loss. Health professionals recommend a dose of 10mg of lutein per day for anyone suffering from Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD).

Lutein is known to accumulate in the retina and several other regions of the brain and has been shown to protect against eye disease and preserve cognitive function in older adults. These studies are important because they demonstrate that the beneficial influence of lutein on cognition is evident in childhood. We also know that these pigments are found in high quantities in the infant brain. That suggests that they are important in some way for brain development.

Lutein is said to also help reverse the signs of a fading memory. Adults who have high levels of lutein are better able to recall skills and information they learnt many years ago.


Research Shows Link to Cognitive Engagement

The latest study was conducted by the University of Illinois with the aim of assessing how the protective compound affects children. Researchers initially measured brain activity and eye lutein levels of around 50 children aged 8 to 10 years old. The children were given a cognitive task, and those with higher levels of the substance performed better. They also didn’t have a spike in brain activity which is associated with a person tapping into their brain for help when completing a task. It is looked at as a marker of resource allocation or cognitive engagement.

Lead researcher, Anne Walk, said: “In this case, it appears that children with more lutein in the eye had higher performance and needed less cognitive engagement to accurately perform the task.” The researchers then looked at 8 and 9 year olds and found those with higher levels of lutein performed better on standardized academic tests than those with lower levels, regardless of other academic factors.

Research professor Naiman Khan said: “All these factors - the physical measures of fitness, IQ, socioeconomic status, body mass index and the amount of lutein in the children’s eye - together explain about half of the variability achievement among participants. If you take lutein out of the equation, your ability to predict a child’s performance becomes less accurate.”

It’s important to note that the researchers acknowledge that these studies don’t prove that lutein is solely responsible for the change, but rather it’s a start in learning of the pigment’s role in cognitive development, with researchers commenting: “In the United States and much of the rest of the world, children and adults often fail to meet the recommended daily intakes of foods like fruits and vegetables. We often focus on how diet affects childhood obesity, but we haven’t really studied how it can affect cognition or achievement in childhood.”


Source: Journal of Consumer Research