A new US study reports that supplementing lactating women with lutein seems to effectively raise the blood lutein concentration of the breast-feeding infant, potentially promoting the children’s eye and cognitive health.
In the randomized controlled trial, lutein and zeaxanthin concentrations were measured in blood and milk samples of 89 lactating women, who received 6 mg (low dose) or 12 mg (high dose) lutein per day or place- bo for six weeks, as well as in blood samples of their breast-feed infants (1). The study results showed that total lutein and zeaxanthin concentrations in breast milk increased in the women who took low and high lutein doses by 140% and 250%, respectively, compared with placebo. Increases of 170% and 250% were obser- ved in maternal blood concentrations for the low- and high-dose groups, respectively, while total lutein and zeaxanthin concentrations in the infant blood increased by 180% and 330% in the low- and high-dose gro- ups, respectively. The levels of other carotenoids in lactating women or their infants were not affected by the lutein supplementation.
The researchers commented that breast milk and/or infant formula is the sole source of nutrition during this critical period of development. Given the relation between intake of lutein by the breastfeeding mother, in- fant plasma concentrations, and the importance of lutein as an antioxidant and in eye health, they said that it is prudent that lactating women consume adequate lutein from the diet or supplements to ensure adequate concentrations in breast milk for infant growth and development.
Lutein has been found to be the dominant carotenoid (about 60% of the total) in pediatric (0–11 months) brain tissue (2). This is not likely due to dietary intakes, as US nutrition survey (NHANES) data found that lutein was about 12% of total intake. Therefore, just as in the macula, where there is preferential uptake of lutein over the hundreds of other carotenoids, the scientists noted there appears to be preferential uptake for lutein into pediatric brain tissue as well. Whether or not lutein can affect cognitive development early in life is not yet known.