Visit our Re-post guidelines
Both astaxanthin and lutein, two powerful carotenoids found in a variety of fruits, vegetables and other foods, have proven brain-boosting and cognitive enhancing abilities. Research suggests lutein and astaxanthin may decrease the risk of various cognitive disorders and improve visual function in both young and aging adults
While it's not surprising that the intake of such powerful antioxidants like carotenoids would have such beneficial effects, researchers have been impressed with the variety of cognitive benefits these particular carotenoids produce. To summarize this research, we've compiled a list of the top five cognitive benefits associated with the consumption of both astaxanthin and lutein.
Top Five Cognitive Benefits of Astaxanthin
- Improves Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Loss of eyesight due to macular degeneration is a serious concern for many older adults. In one study, participants who took oral supplements containing both lutein and astaxanthin saw an improvement in the health of the central retina after just 12 months of supplementation.[ii]
- Promotes Recovery From Mental Fatigue
Many healthy adults are severely affected by mental fatigue. In a study involving healthy participants each taking astaxanthin supplements for four weeks at a time, astaxanthin supplementation was shown to improve mental fatigue by increasing antioxidant function and reducing oxidative stress, one of the precursors to mental fatigue.[iii] Additionally, astaxanthin supplementation produces no adverse effects.
- Improves Cognitive Function in Aging Adults
In a larger double-blind study of 96 healthy aged participants, researchers tested the effects of astaxanthin supplementation on cognitive function after just four weeks. The researchers found that due to the strong antioxidant properties of astaxanthin, which consumes free radicals as it scavenges through the body and brain, it produced strong cognitive benefits even after a short supplementation period.[iv]
Researchers theorized that astaxanthin supplementation could be further used to prevent or diminish the effects of other age-related degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.[v]
These findings have been further validated with additional studies that found astaxanthin supplementation improved psychomotor speed and processing speed, improving the ability to comprehend and perform various complex tasks quickly and accurately in participants suffering from mild cognitive impairment (a precursor to dementia).[vi]
Researchers now believe astaxanthin could be used to maintain cognitive function in adults already diagnosed with these diseases.[vii]
- Radioprotective Potential
As concern with radiation exposure in modern society continues to rise, researchers are eager to find natural compounds that protect our cells.
Due to astaxanthin's powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and its neuroprotective and radioprotective effects against various forms of radiation, researchers believe that astaxanthin supplementation could greatly reduce the harmful effects of radiation.[viii],[ix],[x],[xi],[xii]
- Enhances Memory Function
Research has shown that astaxanthin may improve memory function in adults with cognitive impairment or cancer patients suffering from "chemobrain," a cognitive dysfunction caused by chemotherapeutic agents, by reducing the progression of neurodegeneration.[xiii],[xiv]
Top Five Cognitive Benefits of Lutein
- May Reduce the Risk of Macular Degeneration
Higher intake of both lutein and astaxanthin is correlated with reduced risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration.[xv] Researchers suggest that individuals increase their intake of lutein-containing foods as a protective measure against the progression of this disease.[xvi],[xvii]
- Enhances Memory
Researchers found that supplementing with lutein enhanced memory and cognitive function in healthy adults with low macular pigment in the central retina, and now believe lutein's strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may also increase executive function and verbal fluency.[xviii]
- May Reduce the Risk of Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia
In addition to improving memory in healthy adults, lutein has shown positive effects on those suffering from Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia and may be useful in preventing the onset of these diseases.[xix],[xx] This is likely due to lutein's antioxidant properties and ability to effectively lower chronic oxidative stress in the brain.[xxi]
- Reduces Psychological Stress and Improves Mood
In a study of the emotional health of young adults, lutein supplementation was found to significantly improve stress and mood levels by reducing oxidative stress and systemic inflammation after six and 12 months.[xxii]
- Improves Cognitive Performance in Children
Lutein is not only a powerful supplement for improving memory and increasing cognitive function in adults, but has powerful benefits for children as well. A research study from Canada found that children with higher levels of macular pigmentation opal density (MPOD) perform better on cognitive tests and were less likely to have errors than children with lower levels of MPOD.[xxiii]
Lutein supplementation improves these MPOD levels and increases cognitive function in children. Researchers have suggested that increased lutein intake by breastfeeding mothers may improve lutein levels in breastmilk, further improving children's and infants' cognitive abilities.[xxiv]
How to Increase Lutein and Astaxanthin in Your Diet
Astaxanthin and lutein boast numerous brain and cognitive benefits, leading researchers to believe that an increase of these powerful carotenoids through diet or supplementation could greatly reduce the risk of various cognitive disorders, as well as improve cognitive function. Here are a few suggestions for increasing your levels of lutein and astaxanthin:
- Pay attention to the timing of supplementation and avoid smoking.
A 2014 study determined that the bioavailability of astaxanthin supplements is greatly improved when taken after meals. Furthermore, the researchers found that smoking reduced the concentration of astaxanthin, reducing its therapeutic benefits.[xxv]
- Increase intake of leafy greens and fruits and vegetables high in carotenoids.
- Eat more eggs.
[xxv] Yumika OKADA, Masaharu ISHIKURA & Takashi MAOKA (2009) Bioavailability of Astaxanthin in Haematococcus Algal Extract: The Effects of Timing of Diet and Smoking Habits, Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry, 73:9, 1928-1932, DOI: 10.1271/ bbb.90078