September 11, 2019

Exploring the role of dietary xanthophylls in vision and cognition: an evolutionary perspective

Leaders: Nicole Stringham and Daniel Schmitt (Duke University)

Working Group in Brain Sciences

Lutein and zeaxanthin are nutrients known as carotenoids, and they are found primarily in leafy- green, and yellow-orange fruits and vegetables. These compounds, found in the retina and brain, can protect from oxidative stress and improve vision, mood, and cognitive performance. The average American does not regularly consume large quantities of these foods, and it is possible that we all are deficient in lutein and zeaxanthin. Research has shown that supplementing the diet with lutein and zeaxanthin leads to improvements in visual and cognitive performance, reduced psychological stress, and may reduce the risk of age- related diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration and age-related cognitive impairment. But this begs the questions of how and why our system evolved to need this nutrients and how changes in our diet may have led to deficiency. The overall goal is to understand how this system evolved and how it can be best maintained.