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TalkingNutrition

Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals

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Nutrition Lessons on Carotenoids from Dr Seuss

By Michael McBurney

Dr Seuss’ made Green Eggs and Ham a universally recognized lyric. He asked , “You do not like green eggs and ham?”and the response was “I do not like them, Sam-I-am.” Perhaps Dr Seuss meant brightly colored yolks, rich in carotenoids. Egg yolks derive their brightness because of the carotenoids chickens consume. Flamingos are colorful for the same reason.

Choosing a colorful, carotenoid-rich diet is important to maintain cognitive function of the brain throughout life. For this reason, Kesse-Guyot and colleagues evaluated the carotenoid intake and plasma levels of 2983 middle-aged adults participating in the SU.VI.MAX (Supplementation en Vitamines et Mineraux Antioxydants) study and associated these measurements with cognitive score (Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale). Not surprisingly, they found statistically significant correlations between a carotenoid-rich dietary pattern and the consumption of orange- and green-colored fruits and vegetables, vegetable oils and soups. People  in the highest tertile had higher plasma carotenoid concentrations. They also had higher composite cognitive scores.

Variable

Tertile 1

(mean ± SD)

Tertile 2

(mean ± SD)

Tertile 3

(mean ± SD)

P value

Cognitive Score

8.3±7.2

8.7±7.5

9.1±7.6

0.05

Plasma level

(µmol/L)

 

β-carotene

0.49±0.41

0.79±0.46

1.04±0.64

<0.0001

Lutein

0.24±0.09

0.30±0.13

0.33±0.15

<0.0001

Zeaxanthin

0.07±0.03

0.09±0.05

0.09±0.05

0.001

β-cryptoxanthin

0.20±0.17

0.31±0.22

0.39±0.27

<0.0001

This is not the first time carotenoids have been linked with healthy ageing. Lutein and zeaxanthin are known to accumulate in the brain. In a 4mo, randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled intervention (RCT) in older women, Johnson reported that lutein supplementation (12mg/d) alone or in combination with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 800 mg/d) significantly improved cognitive function. Wang and colleagues measured higher cognitive scores in dementia patients with higher antioxidant carotenoid (and DHA) levels. In cross-sectional study, von Arnim and colleagues  found higher cognitive scores were correlated with higher beta-carotenoid concentrations.

So if you do not like green eggs and ham, then it would be wise to consume lots of colorful fruit and vegetables. To find foods rich in carotenoids, search the USDA National Nutrient Database. To learn more about the health benefits of carotenoids, visit the Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center and the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements website.

Main citation

Kesse-Guyot E, Andreeva VA, Ducros V, Jeandel C, Julia C, Hercberg S, Galan P. Carotenoid-rich dietary patterns during midlife and subsequent cognitive function. 2013 Br J Nutr doi:10.1017/S0007114513003188

Other citations

Johnson E. A possible role for lutein and zeaxanthin in cognitive function in the elderly. 2012 AJCN doi:10.3945/ajcn.112.034611

Wang W, Shinto L, Connor WE, Quinn JF. Nutritional biomarkers in Alzheimer’s Disease: The association between carotenoids, n-3 fatty acids, and dementia severity. 2008 J Alz Dis 13:31-38

Von Arnim CAF, Herbolsheimer F, Nikolaus T, Peter R, Biesalski HK, Ludolph AC, Riepe M, Nagel G. Dietary antioxidants and dementia in a population-based case-control study among older people in South Germany. 2012 J Alz Dis 31:717-724


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