A recent study published in British Journal of Nutrition (Kesse-Guyot E, 2013 Sept 27) found that a diet rich in carotenoids improved cognitive performance in middle-aged men and women. Nearly 3000 individuals, 35-60 years of age, participating in the French SU. VI. MAX (Supplementation en Vitamines et Mineraux Antioxidants) (Hercberg S, 2004) study were followed for two years, 2007-2009. During this time the participants underwent a series of six tests to measure brain function for which they received a composite score. They were also tested in their ability to recall information, count backward by a specific number of digits, connect a series of dots in sequence as quickly as possible, and they underwent a fluency of speech test. Participants’ eating habits were also tracked during this time by using several 24-hour recalls, interviews in which they were asked to recount exactly what they ate the previous day. Blood tests were also conducted to measure the concentrations of carotenoids in their blood, specifically Lutein, Zeaxanthin, Beta-cryptoxanthin, Lycopene, Alpha-carotene, and Beta-carotenes. Individuals with greater reported intakes of foods high in carotenoids and corresponding high blood concentrations of carotenoids consistently scored better on all of the cognitive tests over the course of the study.
Free-radicals, usually the natural byproduct of oxidation in the body, can cause chronic inflammation, disrupt normal metabolic processes, and cause premature aging of cells. Carotenoids are plant pigments and powerful antioxidants which protect your cells from the damage caused by free-radical molecules. Red, orange, yellow, and dark green vegetables are excellent sources of all sorts of carotenoids. Because they work together synergistically in the body, the greater variety of colorful fruits and vegetables you consume, the greater the antioxidant effects of the carotenoids in your diet. Carotenoids like Lutein, Zeaxanthin, Cryptoxanthins, Lycopene, and Carotenes are also available in many multivitamins, antioxidant complex supplements, or on their own as individual supplements. Carotenoid supplements are best taken with a meal, as the other foods (especially fats) will help ensure maximum absorption of these precious nutrients.