Cognition

Two important nutrients for brain health and cognition are found in eggs: choline and lutein. Choline plays a role in early brain development during pregnancy and infancy, particularly in areas of the brain that are used for memory and learning. Lutein has long been associated with eye health but research has discovered lutein’s role in cognition as well. For example:

  • Researchers at the University of Illinois published two studies looking at the relationship between brain lutein, as measured using a non-invasive eye test called Macular Pigment Optical Density (MPOD), and cognition in children. They found that MPOD concentration was positively associated with academic performance.
  • The American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates recommended the addition of choline to prenatal vitamins because of its essentiality in promoting cognitive development of the offspring.
  • There is evidence that infants exposed to higher levels of maternal choline (930 mg/day) during the third trimester have improved information processing speed during the first year of life, an indicator of cognition and intelligence.

Lutein’s Role in Optimal Eye and Brain Health

Image: Actual lutein scores from attendees at the 2018 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo®.

Lutein is an important carotenoid that has been shown to act as internal sunglasses, protecting our eyes from harmful blue light. It also prevents against macular degeneration and other age-related eye diseases. Emerging research shows lutein’s benefits may extend beyond eye health, impacting cognitive function and brain health across the lifespan.

Lutein – The Eye’s and Brain’s Best Friend

Featured article in the Fall 2018 Issue of Nutrition Close-Up; written by Jirayu Tanprasertsuk, MS and Emily Mohn, PhD

Autumn is the perfect time to observe carotenoids in nature. Carotenoids are a group of plant pigments that are responsible for the beautiful yellow, orange, and red foliage during this season. We also find carotenoids in many of the colorful fruits and vegetables we eat. Although there are more than 600 naturally occurring carotenoids, only six of them are common in the American diet. Most of us are familiar with beta-carotene, responsible for the orange color of carrots and sweet potatoes, and lycopene, responsible for the red color of tomatoes. Lutein is a carotenoid found mostly in green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach, but is also found in eggs and avocados. The amount of lutein in selected food sources is provided in Table 1.

Choline During Pregnancy Improves Infant Cognition

Choline is hot! In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration established a Reference Daily Intake value for choline of 550 mg. Then in June of 2017, the American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates recommended the addition of choline to prenatal vitamins because of its essentiality in promoting cognitive development of the offspring. This was followed in August by a study that showed that more than 90% of pregnant women (as well as adults in general) do not consume recommended intakes of choline.

Now the story continues. This month, Dr. Marie Caudill and colleagues at Cornell University published evidence that infants exposed to higher levels of maternal choline (930 mg/day) during the third trimester have improved information processing speed during the first year of life, an indicator of cognition and intelligence. Similar studies have been conducted in rodents and shown that the cognitive effects of maternal exposure to choline last beyond infancy. Whether the same will be observed in humans remains to be determined. But one thing is clear: there’s much to learn about the role of choline in brain development. Hopefully this study will be a catalyst for other scientists to start unraveling the unknowns about this previously underappreciated nutrient.

 

Reference: Caudill MA, et al. Maternal choline supplementation during the third trimester of pregnancy improves infant information processing speed: a randomized, double-blind, controlled feeding study. FASEB J. 2018;32:2172-2180.

Foods and My Baby: Perspectives from a Pregnant Mom

Featured article in the Fall 2017 Issue of Nutrition Close-Up; written by Rachel Bassler, RDN, CSSD, LDN

Most pregnant women are bombarded with health and nutrition information via handouts from their doctor, advice from friends and family, or pregnancy smartphone apps (confession: I have three). Many times, information is geared towards what foods to avoid like raw meat, fish with mercury, unpasteurized cheeses and alcohol. While this information is extremely important for the health and safety of both mother and baby, it’s also crucial to focus on foods and nutrients that are beneficial during pregnancy.