Expectant mothers need a variety of nutrients to ensure the baby’s health during pregnancy. In addition to folic acid, selenium, copper and zinc, also different vitamins play an important role. Substances that are often given less attention are lutein and zeaxanthin, which, however, are particularly important in combination for mother and child.
What is Lutein?
Lutein is an antioxidant that belongs to the caratonoids and is found in many plant foods. It is particularly known for protecting the eyes and vision, but it also has beneficial effects on the brain and reduces inflammation. Lutein-rich foods include broccoli, grapes, eggs, spinach, kale, corn, and zucchini. Your body cannot produce lutein itself, so you must get it through your diet or take a supplement.
What is Zeaxanthin?
Just like lutein, zeaxanthin also belongs to the caratonoids. The eyes have the highest concentration of zeaxanthin – specifically, in the yellow spot (macula) on the retina. There is the point of sharpest vision. The yellow color of the spot is caused by zeaxanthin and lutein. However, zeaxanthin is also found in the ovaries, testicles, adrenal glands, lungs, heart, skin and brain.
Benefits in Pregnancy
Both zeaxanthin and lutein are found in the placenta and umbilical cord. Compared to other carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin were found to be most abundant in the placenta and umbilical cord blood. These nutrients influence eye development and the child’s brain. In fact, 60 percent of the carotenoids in pediatric brain tissue are said to be made up of lutein. Since lutein and zeaxanthin have antioxidant effects, they can counteract oxidative stress in the uterus. This reduces the risk of diseases such as intrauterine growth restriction, preeclampsia and premature birth.
Breast Milk Rich in Lutein and Zeaxanthin
But both substances are also found in breast milk. Especially in combination with zeaxanthin, lutein can have a positive effect on breastfeeding. Research shows that although babies are born with the same lutein levels after birth, those who are breast-fed have higher lutein levels than infants who are formula-fed at one month. Lutein also helps protect fatty acids like DHA from oxidative damage. In one study, infants supplemented with lutein immediately after birth reduced the development of harmful oxidizing substances known as free radicals.
Child’s Vision Benefits
In the second trimester, lutein and zeaxanthin accumulate in the baby’s retina. In the third trimester, when eye and brain development are at their peak, mothers also have the highest levels of lutein. Studies have found that children born to mothers who had higher levels of lutein and zexanthine had a lower risk of poor vision, specifically the ability to see fine detail.
Better Behavioral Control in Childhood
Although lutein has long been associated with eye health, recent research is shedding light on how this substance provides benefits in child development. According to researchers from Tufts University and Harvard Medical School, higher lutein intake during pregnancy is linked to better behavioral regulation in childhood. The researchers analyzed data from 1,126 mother-child pairs and found that there were fewer behavioral regulation problems in children born to women with higher lutein levels during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy. Higher maternal intake during pregnancy was also associated with better verbal intelligence in the offspring.
The recommended daily dose for lutein is 6 to 10 mg. In addition to a healthy diet, lutein and other important substances can also be found in many dietary supplements in optimal dosage to ensure healthy levels during pregnancy.