Researchers emphasize the importance of nutrition in preventing dementia
08/18/2018 // Edsel Cook // Views

Nutrition experts have long stressed the role of essential nutrients in preventing deadly disease, an article on Nutra Ingredients USA stated. Some of them are now arguing for the recognition of other nutrients like curcumin and lutein that amend the symptoms of non-lethal yet serious diseases, such as the various forms of dementia.

These like-minded researchers came together for "Is Dementia the 'New' Heart Disease?" – a satellite symposium of the Nutrition 2018 health conference. Researchers like Dr. Elizabeth Johnson of Tufts University talked about the important role that nutrition plays in cognitive health.

Johnson, a member of the university's Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center, said that dementia and heart disease share many risk factors. She and her colleagues have therefore been calling attention to cognitive decline, be it related to age or not.

Furthermore, they are also figuring out how nutrition can help prevent dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and the like.

Johnson is an expert on lutein, a carotenoid that acts as a color pigment in plants. She studied the nutritional effects of lutein on the brain and the blood vessels of the heart.

Based on her findings, lutein is one of the very first nutrients that gets hauled to the brain. Johnson considered this preferential treatment to be odd given there are hundreds of other carotenoids in nutrition. (Related: What’s up, doc? Carrots are one of the best foods to eat if you have heart problems.)

Lutein linked to dementia in adults and brain development in children

In a 2017 research paper she published in the journal Nutrients, Johnson reported that lutein in avocados could improve eye health and boost attention spans.


"The question is, why is it important that we have preferential take-up of lutein into the brain? I have evidence to demonstrate that, and we think it is important because higher levels are related to better cognitive function," she said.

She added that there were numerous studies suggesting cognitive function improved as the levels of lutein increased. Many of these studies involved older adults with mild cognitive impairment that eventually becomes dementia.

The newer research demonstrates that lutein can also improve the cognitive health of children. Johnson is investigating what the nutrient is doing in the brain.

In one of Johnson's studies, her team measured lutein levels in the brains of children who died from accidents. They reported that lutein was connected to antioxidants that scavenged toxic free radicals, metabolites required for energy and lipid metabolism, and neurotransmitters in the brain.

These compounds ensure that the brain of the child grows and develops properly during the first year. Lutein's connection to them suggests it is also important during this critical time.

Johnson even cited the color of an egg yolk, which is yellow due to lutein, as additional proof that lutein is required for proper early development.

From ensuring essential nutrients to achieving optimal health

Another expert who vouched for nutrition's role in cognitive health was Dr. Gary Small from UCLA Longevity Center. His work covered the importance of the phytonutrient curcumin on brain amyloid, memory, and tau effect.

Regarding Small's research as well as her own studies, Johnson said that most attention has focused on essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals that humans cannot live without. Non-essential nutrients like curcumin and lutein do not get as much attention since they are not associated with deadly deficiency diseases.

However, more and more people are now moving from survival health to optimal health. Essentially, they want to live longer and healthier, which curcumin and lutein can help with.

Do you want to learn more about brain-boosting nutrients like lutein? Visit

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