Eye to Brain Connection
The brain is instrumental to vision as it helps make sense of the images the eyes see. It’s no surprise that certain nutrients that support eye health are also critical for healthy brain development.
It’s no secret that good nutrition lays the groundwork for healthy development of children and teens. In addition to eye health, research adds evidence that certain nutrients supporting good vision are also critical for development of a healthy brain.1,2 The eye is connected to the nervous system, with the brain as the centerpiece the system. When looking at how both organs function, the eye and brain show similar needs for nutritional support.
The two essential nutrients that appear in scientific studies to be key for vision in childhood, the teenage years, and later life — lutein and zeaxanthin — seem also critical for brain health. Many studies have established that lutein and zeaxanthin play important roles in the development of healthy vision, starting before birth. Lutein and zeaxanthin are deposited in the macula, a small, yellowish area in the back of the eye.
At the same time, lutein and zeaxanthin seem essential for a healthy brain at all ages. A higher measure of lutein and zeaxanthin density in the eyes (as measured by macular pigment optical density) is directly related to higher levels in the brain1 and better mental performance.3-5
One study showed that lutein and zeaxanthin status predicted overall classroom achievement, including performance on tests of math and writing.5
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), one of the main omega-3 fatty acids, is essential for healthy development of both the eyes and brain, and sufficient levels have been linked to improved performance at school.6 The DHA Oxford Learning and Behavior trial found that in children ages 7 to 9 who were underperforming in reading, a healthy diet that achieved 600 mg of DHA daily supported improvements in reading, and behavior.7
1. Vishwanathan, Neuringer et al. (2013) Macular lutein and zeaxanthin are related to brain lutein and zeaxanthin in primates. Nutr Neuroscience, 16(1):21.
2. Vishwanathan, Kuchan, et al. (2014) Lutein and preterm infants with decreased concentrations of brain carotenoids. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr., 59(5):659.
3. Walk A et al. (2017) From neuro-pigments to neural efficiency: The relationship between retinal carotenoids and behavioral and neuroelectric indices of cognitive control in childhood International Journal of Psychophysiology 118: 1–8.
4. Hassevoort K et al. (2017) Macular Carotenoids, Aerobic Fitness, and Central Adiposity Are
Associated Differentially with Hippocampal-Dependent Relational Memory in Preadolescent Children J Pediatr. 2017 Apr; 183:108-11.
5. Barnett S et al. (2017) Macular pigment optical density is positively associated with academic performance among preadolescent children. Nutritional Neuroscience. DOI: 10.1080/1028415X.2017.1329976.
6. Kuratko CN et al. (2013) The Relationship of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) with Learning and Behavior in Healthy Children: A Review. Nutrients. Jul; 5(7): 2777–2810.
7. Richardson AJ et al. (2012) Docosahexaenoic Acid for Reading, Cognition and Behavior in Children Aged 7–9 Years: A Randomized, Controlled Trial (The DOLAB Study). PLoS ONE 7(9): e43909. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0043909.