Lutein in Children

Lutein is one of many reasons to encourage your child to eat his vegetables. Part of the carotenoid family, lutein is primarily found in green vegetables. It’s not an essential nutrient, but New York University Langone Medical Center states it’s valuable in maintaining optimal health 1. Its antioxidant properties protect your child’s eyes from damage and future eye problems, and recent evidence indicates it may play a role in young children’s brain development.

Natural Sun Protector

Lutein is the main pigment, or color, in the center of your child’s retina, which is known as the macula. Continuous exposure to sunlight damages the macula over time and eventually leads to a condition known as macular degeneration. It’s important to protect your child’s eyes now because age-related macular degeneration is the primary cause of blindness in people over 55. Lutein helps by acting as a natural sun protector.

Antioxidant Properties

The lens of your child’s eye gathers and focuses light on the retina so he can see clearly. Free radicals are produced through metabolism and exposure to environmental factors, such as sunlight. They damage cells through a process called oxidation. When the lens of the eye is oxidized, it becomes cloudy and causes cataracts. As an antioxidant, lutein stabilizes free radicals and protects the lens from damage. A study published in 2008 in “Ophthalmology” showed a lower incidence of cataracts in women who consumed more lutein. Get your child enough lutein early in life to help ward off cataracts later on.

Brain Health

A 2014 study in the “Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition” found that lutein is the main carotenoid found in tissue samples of infant brains 3. It accumulates in areas that control cognition, vision, hearing and speech. This evidence indicates an infant’s brain takes up lutein, but it is unclear what the impact is and how it affects infant brain function. A 2014 study in the “Journal of Nutritional Science” showed no link between lutein consumption, amount of lutein in the blood and measures of child cognition 4. More research is needed to determine the link between lutein and brain health.

Recommendations and Considerations

Green vegetables, including spinach, kale, turnip greens and collards, are rich in lutein. It’s also found in corn, peas, green beans and romaine lettuce. There is no recommended dietary intake for lutein, but try to get your child to eat her leafy, green vegetables rather than give her a supplement. New York University Langone Medical Center states there is insufficient evidence on the safety of lutein when taken as a supplement, and no upper limits for safe dosages have been established for children 1.