Disease Prevention - Life Science

Carotenoids and Their Role in Eye and Brain Health

Beyond their function as pigments that impart beautiful colors to living systems, carotenoids offer valuable protection for the eye and brain.

Image credit: "Enter" by Marilyn Robinson

Image credit: Pixabay

Both plant and human tissues require antioxidant and anti‐inflammatory compounds called carotenoids. These vital nutrients (there are over 750) are easy to spot—they give rise to the vibrant red, orange, and yellow colors we observe in the fruits and vegetables we eat and in the leaves of certain hardwood trees during the autumn months. The distinctive feathers of flamingos and other birds are also attributed to an abundance of carotenoids such as beta-carotene in their diets.

The overproduction of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in cells causes damage to proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, and DNA, imparting oxidative stress on our bodies and contributing to the development of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and neurodegenerative disorders. A subdivison of carotenoids classed as xanthophylls—lutein and zeaxanthin, in particular—has been shown to defend against these inevitable stresses, preventing age‐related macular degeneration of the eye as well as cognitive decline.

Given their numerous health benefits, establishing recommended intakes of the major dietary carotenoids is an important endeavor and is one goal of EUROCAROTEN, a network established to promote carotenoid research. In addition, a special issue of Molecular Nutrition & Food Research focuses on nutrition for the eye and brain and how carotenoids and omega‐3 fatty acids play a role in protecting these specialized tissues.

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