How A Colorful Diet Can Support A Long & Healthy Life In Women, According To New Review
It's only natural to want to live the longest, healthiest life you can, and fueling your body with the proper macro-, micro-, and phytonutrients it needs is one of the best ways to achieve this goal. Women tend to live longer than men in general; however, they're also more likely to develop health concerns (specifically relating to the eyes and brain) along the way. But what if you could eat your way to a more durable body?
According to a new research review published in 1Nutritional Neuroscience1, you can. In fact, women in particular would benefit from regular dietary inputs of two unique phytonutrients (we see you, macular carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin) in order to preserve brain and eye health well into old age. Here's how:
What the review revealed.
Vision science expert Billy R. Hammond, Ph.D., and cognitive aging specialist Lisa M. Renzi-Hammond, Ph.D., from the University of Georgia (UGA) teamed up to thoroughly review the research to date and uncover several key insights.
First, women are far more likely than men to experience certain health concerns (especially in the central nervous system organs including the brain and eyes) throughout their lives. Therefore, lifestyle interventions rooted in science that can help alter this trajectory should be celebrated (and prioritized).
"One such lifestyle 'lever' women—and all people—have the power to 'pull' daily involves the intentional consumption of key phytonutrients known as carotenoids," explains mbg's vice president of scientific affairs Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN. "As it turns out, there are over 600 of these phenomenal carotenoid plant bioactives, but get this: Only two are known to be preferentially deposited and concentrated in your macula, that centermost part of your retina that's required for everything from color and central vision to discerning fine details," Ferira adds.
Which two? Lutein and zeaxanthin. That's how they earned their fame and title as "macular carotenoids." Hammond and Renzi-Hammond's research revealed that these two macular carotenoids (found in colorful fruits and green leafy vegetables, as well as targeted supplements formulated to support eye health and health span) are potent antioxidants that represent a strategic nutrition tool to support a long and healthy life.*
Not only do your eyes crave these phytochemicals day in and day out, but so does your brain. That's why consuming these pigmented carotenoids appears to be particularly important for visual health and cognitive function, the study authors explain. "This may be due to the highly selective presence of a fraction of carotenoids, namely lutein and zeaxanthin, in specific tissues of the eye and brain."
Therefore, if women tailor their lifestyle to include higher volumes of these carotenoids, this will support their health throughout the aging process, contributing to a higher functioning and rewarding life in relation to vision and cognitive function. "Lutein and zeaxanthin are concentrated in the retina and brain and are known to improve the fidelity of the eye's optics and the efficiency of critical neural pathways," the UGA researchers explain.
More specifically, as their research review elegantly details: These powerhouse "blue-blocker" carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin have been clinically shown to help reduce photostress and light sensitivity while also improving memory, visual processing speed, problem-solving, and executive function.*
"Photoprotective and neuroprotective? Yes, please," concludes Ferira on these carotenoid wonders.
How does gender play into it?
Regardless of your gender, it's always important to consume a balanced and diverse diet that offers a wide array of high-quality nutrients. However, when it comes down to carotenoids (as found in leafy greens, colorful fruit, and high-quality supplements), women's needs are actually higher than men's, notes Hammond and Renzi-Hammond.
One contributing factor for this carotenoid gender difference is related to body composition. "Carotenoids are fat-soluble by biochemical design, and thus, women's higher adiposity (aka body fat percentage) compared to men means that they likely require higher carotenoid inputs each day to compensate," explains Ferira.
All in all, this fascinating research review clearly indicates that by prioritizing the intake of pigmented carotenoids in their diets, women could enjoy their longer life with a reduced risk of cognitive and visual issues.
"The parallels between [health issues] that preferentially affect women and the link to carotenoids, especially lutein and zeaxanthin, is striking. Given the high probability of help and the low probability of harm, targeting the lutein and zeaxanthin intake of women is a wise strategy," concludes UGA researchers.
We couldn't agree more. Anybody craving some kale? Or if you need some colorful, carotenoid-packed recipe inspiration without turning to basic salads? Check out our favorite hacks here.
What about targeted approaches (supplements)?
"Since the human body is incapable of synthesizing carotenoids, we're at the mercy of what we put in our mouth. Food and supplements can be strategic partners in that daily venture to consume key carotenoids our brain, eyes, and whole body need in meaningful doses. Lutein and zeaxanthin most definitely fit that bill," says Ferira.
For example, mbg's eye health+ formula delivers clinically researched doses of lutein and zeaxanthin (plus astaxanthin, maqui berry, and saffron—a literal rainbow of plant pigments). For lutein and zeaxanthin specifically, think of these xanthophyll carotenoids as akin to "internal sunglasses," thanks to their major light-filtering abilities.* Concentrated in the back of the eye, these photoprotective antioxidants are clinically shown to improve visual performance and macular health and longevity.*
A premium multivitamin can also be useful for not only filling dietary gaps but taking your well-being to the next level. Which is exactly why mbg created ultimate multivitamin+. Not only does this comprehensive vegan multi (created and optimized for women and men) support immune, brain, and eye health, but it also includes a range of botanical bioactives to support longevity.* Created with your future in mind, this multi features full-potency doses of carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin from marigold flowers, as well as lycopene from red tomatoes.*
"Whether young or older, now is always a great time to leverage targeted nutrition science and tools to prioritize your health span and longevity," says Ferira.
Thanks to this research study underscoring the functional health benefits of carotenoids, we know that leaning into a carotenoid-rich diet and smart supplement routine featuring carotenoids can help keep our eyes and brain health thriving.*
Merrell Readman is the Associate Food & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. Readman is a Fordham University graduate with a degree in journalism and a minor in film and television. She has covered beauty, health, and well-being throughout her editorial career, and formerly worked at SheFinds. Her byline has also appeared in Women’s Health. In her current role, she writes and edits for the health, movement, and food sections of mindbodygreen. Readman currently lives in New York City.