The first 1,000 days between the onset of a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday offer a unique window of opportunity for good nutrition. Along with a balanced diet, prenatal supplements are routinely recommended to ensure that a pregnant woman consumes adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals known to be essential for a healthy pregnancy and baby. Yet, some prenatal supplements omit nutrients known to help the baby’s developing eyes.

The Importance of Lutein and Zeaxanthin for Mom and Baby

Science shows that lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidants and may provide a variety of health benefits for the developing baby, most notably in the eyes and brain.1 During pregnancy, levels of lutein and zeaxanthin in a mother’s blood increase.2 Lutein in the mother’s blood has been found to increase by approximately 33 percent between the first and third trimester of pregnancy.3,4 Studies show that both nutrients continue to play a vital role in the development of the eyes and brains of infants and children after birth.5,6

Foods sources of lutein and zeaxanthin include leafy greens, such as kale and spinach, and eggs. Because most diets worldwide typically fall short on vegetables, intakes of lutein and zeaxanthin average from 1 to 3 mg in total per day,7-11 far less than the recommended 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin for adults.12

The Role of DHA

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is one of the main omega-3 fatty acids found in fish such as salmon, and in vegetarian forms in certain types of algae. DHA is necessary for healthy cells and is concentrated in the brain and the retina of the eye.

During pregnancy, DHA supports optimal infant brain and eye development and is particularly important in the third trimester when significant brain growth occurs. Maternal DHA supplementation during pregnancy and nursing enhances the level of DHA available to the fetus and infant and may improve certain developmental outcomes, such as eye-hand coordination, motor skills and attention span.13,14

Pregnant women and new mothers can consume DHA from low-mercury, oily fish such as salmon, herring and sardines. Dietary intake of DHA, however, falls far short of recommendations worldwide, creating a need for supplemental sources. Ideally, prenatal and postnatal supplements include DHA as an ingredient.

Other Essential Nutrients for Healthy Vision

Vitamins A and E support healthy vision development in different ways. Vitamin A, found in leafy green and orange vegetables, nourishes the retina and the cornea and helps with the maintenance of normal vision.  Vitamin E protects the eyes against damage from oxidation, a process much like rusting, which damages healthy cells. By curbing oxidation, vitamin E therefore contributes to the normal development of vision and overall good health of both mother and baby.

 

References: 

1. Zielinska MA et al. Carotenoids During Pregnancy and Lactation. Nutrients. 2017, 9, 838.

2. Oostenbrug GS et al. Br J Nutr 80:67-73, 1998.

3. Horton DK et al. Changes in the concentrations of biochemical indicators of diet and nutritional status of pregnant women across pregnancy trimesters in Trujillo, Peru 2004–2005. Nutr. J. 2013, 12, 80.

4. Oostenbrug GS et al. Maternal and neonatal plasma antioxidant levels in normal pregnancy, and the relationship with fatty acid unsaturation. Br. J. Nutr. 1998, 80, 67–73.

5. Rubin LP, et al. J Perinatol 32(6):418-24, 2012.

6. Walk A et al., 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 (2017) 1–8.

7. Granado F, et al. (2007). Public Health Nutr. 10: 1018-1023.

8. O’Neil M, et al. (2001). Br J Nutr. 85: 499-507.

9. Lucarini M, et al. (2006). Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 76: 103-109.

10. Amanio R, et al. (2012). Seguranca Alimentar e Nutriciional 19: 130-140.

11. Hosatani K, et al. (2012). Ophthalmol. 115: 147-157.

12. Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) Research Group (2014). JAMA Ophthalmol. 132: 142-149.

13. Jensen CL et al. Effects of maternal docosahexaenoic acid intake on visual function and neurodevelopment in breastfed term infants. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005. 82(1): p. 125-32.

14. Jensen CL et al. Effects of early maternal docosahexaenoic acid intake on neuropsychological status and visual acuity at five years of age of breast-fed term infants. J Pediatr, 2010. 157(6): p. 900-5.