Science Just Gave You A Brain-Boosting Reason To Eat Kale

For everyone who really wants to like kale, but really doesn’t–science just handed you a reason to at least pretend that you like it. A new study suggests that a particular nutrient in kale—and spinach, eggs and avocados—is a potential brain booster, especially for those middle-age and older.

The nutrient is called lutein, and our bodies can’t manufacture it on their own. We have to get it from food sources, with kale high on the short list. It accumulates particularly in brain and eye tissue, and previous research has linked it to sharper cognitive functioning in older adults. This study tested that hypothesis with a younger crowd and found that, indeed, the brains of middle-age people with higher levels of lutein seem to perform more on par with the brains of younger folks than with those of their middle-age peers.

This was a small study of 60 adults, 25-45 years old, who agreed to have their eye tissue tested to measure their lutein levels. Then their neural activity was analyzed via electrodes while they completed two challenging attention tasks designed to place a stout demand on neural resources.

Because previous studies found a link between higher lutein levels and sharper performance in older adults who’d already experienced some level of cognitive decline, it was reasonable to look for a similar link here with middle-age participants. The results suggest that the same holds true.

“The neuro-electrical signature of older participants with higher levels of lutein looked much more like their younger counterparts than their peers with less lutein,” acoording to Anne Walk, a postdoctoral scholar and the study’s first author. “Lutein appears to have some protective role, since the data suggest that those with more lutein were able to engage more cognitive resources to complete the task.”

Granted, this study didn’t find a conclusive link, more like a strong hint of something worthwhile going on. Other factors could be involved to help explain the results. The study’s strength is that it builds on previous findings pointing to lutein as a brain booster. The added value here is that the results were found with middle-age adults, suggesting that lutein may offer benefits for a broader swath of people than previously thought.

And food sources high in lutein—like kale, spinach and avocados—are also high in other nutrients that are good for our bodies and brains, so there’s certainly no loss in adding more of them to your diet. It’s a net gain all the way around, and you may end up with more going on upstairs in the process.

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

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