A new study, published by the University of Georgia, has revealed that specific substances encourage the brain to more neurally efficient. The research was conducted by the Department of Psychology and uses a functional MRI process to investigate brain activity with administration of certain substances.
The caretenoids are obtained from a diet. Lutein and zeacanthin have been previously associated with improving eye health and cognitive health in adults. The neural mechanism specifying the pathways been these substances and the link to cognition and their impact on certain brain areas was previously unknown.
“If you can show that in fact there’s a real mechanism behind this, then you could potentially use these nutritional supplements or changes in diet, and you could easily intervene and potentially improve cognition in older adults,” said L. Stephen Miller, professor of psychology, co-author of the study.
The study analyzed the brain activity of 40 adults between 65 and 86 years old, while they attempted to recall specific word pairings that they were taught earlier. Brain activity was analyzed with the functional MRI. It was determined that those individuals who had higher levels of lutein and zeaxanthin did not use as much brain activity to complete the word pairing recall task. Study participants with lower levels of lutein and zeaxanthin used more brain power and relied more heavily on different parts of the brain.
“There’s a natural deterioration process that occurs in the brain as people age, but the brain is great at compensating for that,” Lindbergh said. “One way it compensates is by calling on more brain power to get a job done so it can maintain the same level of cognitive performance.”
The researchers highlight the advantages of neurally efficient nutritional substances and their impact on reversing declining mental processes and the corresponding functional independence in older adults. The amount of variation in brain functioning between the two groups was significant.
“It’s in the interest of society to look at ways to buffer these decline processes to prolong functional independence in older adults,” Lindbergh said. “Changing diets or adding supplements to increase lutein and zeaxanthin levels might be one strategy to help with that.”
“On the surface, it looked like everyone was doing the same thing and recalling the same words,” Lindbergh said, “but when you pop the hood and look at what’s actually going on in the brain, there are significant differences related to their carotenoid levels.”
- Cutter A. Lindbergh, Catherine M. Mewborn, Billy R. Hammond, Lisa M. Renzi-Hammond, Joanne M. Curran-Celentano, L. Stephen Miller. Relationship of Lutein and Zeaxanthin Levels to Neurocognitive Functioning: An fMRI Study of Older Adults. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 2016; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S1355617716000850