One standard gauge of cognitive function is the ability to recall a list of given words. However, new research out of the University of Georgia suggests that there may be more to the story than simply recalling or forgetting the list. In fact, two people who recall the same number of words may actually have significantly different levels of cognitive functioning.
The difference is the ease with which the recall happens. One person may recall the words with little effort, while the other struggles to perform the task. Fortunately, the researchers also identified steps we can take to make such tasks easier for ourselves.
For this study, the researchers used a functional MRI (fMRI) to evaluate the brains of over 40 adults between the ages of 65 and 86 while they tried to recall word pairings. Thanks to the data the researchers obtained from the fMRI, they discovered that some participants had to exert much more brain effort than others in order to remember the pairings. The effort was similar to how some people who are in worse physical shape have to exert more effort to walk a short distance than those in better shape, even if both people are able to complete the task.
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Fortunately, they also found a key difference between the brains of those who struggled and those who didn't. The participants who were able to complete the task easily had higher levels of lutein and zeaxanthin in their brains. These carotenoids are often connected to eye health (for example, you'll find lutein in carrots, and most of us have been told at some point to eat carrots to strengthen our eyes), and they've also been linked to cognitive functioning. This study reinforces the idea that these carotenoids strengthen our brains and allow them to do less work to complete tasks, making them more "neutrally efficient," as the researchers described it.
Although this study was conducted with a small group of participants, the variation in brain activity levels between those with high lutein and zeaxanthin levels and those with low levels was significant enough to merit further investigation. If you're interested in boosting your own neural efficiency as you age, making an effort to consume lutein and zeaxanthin can be a great way to do this. You'll find them in yellow, orange, and green leafy vegetables, which I hope you're eating plenty of.
If you'd like to further cover your bases by getting them in supplement form, you'll find both of these carotenoids, along with other antioxidants, in Advanced Vision Formula. Taking this supplement is a very efficient way to support both your eye health and your cognitive function!
Cutter A. Lindbergh, Catherine M. Mewborn, Billy R. Hammond, Lisa M. Renzi-Hammond, Joanne M. Curran-Celentano, L. Stephen Miller. Relationship of Lutein and Zeaxanthin Levels to Neurocognitive Functioning: An fMRI Study of Older Adults. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 2016; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S1355617716000850