The same chemical that makes tomatoes bright red and apples a crisp shade of green may also improve your mind, a new study finds. Carotenoids are hardly a new kid on the block. They are a class of fat-soluble pigments, one of which colors the fruits and vegetables we all eat. Researchers at the University of Georgia believe they may be much more.
Using an innovative methodology that involves fMRI technology, scientists from the Department of Psychology were able to see how much working memory older adults needed to use when recalling word pairing they had previously been taught. These results were then correlated to each person’s level of carotenoids, which were measured as lutein and zeaxanthin, the two dietary carotenoids that people often consume. Those participants with higher levels of carotenoids were able to remember the word pairings without doing as much brain work as those without. This indicates that carotenoids increase brain efficiency, a huge boon to anyone who is struggling to maintain cognitive health.
Notably, individuals with high and low level of carotenoids didn’t differ substantially in the number of word pairs they were able to remember. This is because the brains of those people with low level of the substance were able to compensate by providing more brain power to the process. Had less brain power been available or had the task required more cognitive ability, the carotenoids may have made more of a difference in performance.
“On the surface, it looked like everyone was doing the same thing and recalling the same words,” study author Cutter Lindbergh reports, “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.”
The take away message here is the same you’d hear at any doctor’s office: it pays to eat your fruits and vegetables.