A diet rich in carotenoids may help keep women healthy later in life


If you’ve ever nibbled on crunchy carrots or juicy kiwis, you’ve tasted carotenoids, the antioxidant compounds that give many foods their red, orange, yellow, and green color.

These natural food dyes have long been known to prevent inflammation. Now, new research shows that two carotenoids – lutein and zeaxanthin – can be particularly beneficial for maintaining women’s health later in life.


With eye and brain health benefits, foods containing carotenoids could be a tasty key to alleviating health issues that plague women in their later years.

Here’s a look at why these colorful nutrients help women live better and longer, and how to get more of them in your daily diet.

For a review published in June in the magazine Nutritional NeuroscienceResearchers sought to delve into the so-called “morbidity and mortality paradox,” which highlights the fact that although women tend to live longer than men, they typically have more health problems.

Two researchers from the University of Georgia – Billy R. Hammond, Ph.D., professor in the university’s Behavioral and Brain Sciences Program; And Lisa Renzi Hammond, MD, associate professor at the university’s Institute of Gerontology, set out to determine whether dietary factors could help improve age-related conditions in women.

Although antioxidant compounds can benefit everyone, carotenoids may have a special place in a woman’s diet. High levels of carotenoids in the blood have previously been associated with a reduced risk of female health problems such as breast and ovarian cancer, age-related muscle loss, inflammatory bowel disease, wrinkled skin, and multiple sclerosis.

However, this study focused specifically on how two carotenoids — lutein and zeaxanthin, or L and Z for short — affect two other issues that disproportionately affect women in later life: visual and neurodegenerative problems.

Since these conditions may be caused by oxidative and inflammatory stress, the researchers suggested that L and Z could help women reduce their risk — especially since antioxidants are known to “clean” cells of harmful free radicals, or chemicals that have the potential to damage cells. Cell damage.

The review concluded that lutein and zeaxanthin directly improve function and prevent degeneration of both the eyes and the brain. Visual problems such as cataracts and macular degeneration and neurological problems such as dementia can be slowed down with a diet rich in lemon and ginger. These improvements may improve quality of life in older women.

Surprisingly, these carotenoids not only help the eyes and brain function better – they are actually essential parts of the organs themselves. “The paradox here is that food components like carotenoids not only reduce disease risk,” Hammond said. health; “They are the building blocks of the brain itself.”

It’s certainly not harmful for all people to add more color to their dishes, but you might be wondering why women tend to make use of more carotenoids, compared to men.

“There are several reasons,” Hammond said. “The first is simply that women are more likely to have a type of degenerative disease, such as macular degeneration and Alzheimer’s disease, which carotenoids seem to be good at preventing.”

Hammond also hypothesizes that women’s bodies may use these antioxidant compounds differently than men’s due to their reproductive biology, size, and body fat distribution. (It’s worth noting that the study focused only on those identified for females at birth. “Some health effects are directly related to biological sex,” Hammond explained.)

Another possibility may be that certain elements of women’s lifestyles create a need for more carotenoids. “There isn’t a lot of data yet on the role of gender identity as a risk factor for degenerative disease,” Hammond said. “We know, however, that lifestyle plays a dominant role and that gender identity influences healthy behavior.” Future research may shed more light on everyday factors that can be modified to reduce the rate of women developing age-related health problems.

One thing is for sure, though, when it comes to eating carotenoids, there’s no time to start. “The common issues women face in their later lives are degenerative problems in nature. Hence, they reflect lifelong behaviour. The earlier the problem starts, the better,” Hammond said.

Getting more carotenoids in your diet – especially lutein and zeaxanthin – doesn’t have to be complicated.

“Sources of carotenoids, particularly lutein and zeaxanthin, include kale, parsley, spinach, broccoli, and peas,” said dietitian Catherine Brooking. health. “Kale is one of the best sources of lutein, containing 48-115 micrograms per gram.” For an antioxidant pop, try tossing some leafy greens into a smoothie or steamed broccoli as a dinner.

Meanwhile, the vegetable isn’t the only star of lutein and zeaxanthin. Orange, watermelon, kiwi, red pepper, pumpkin, egg yolk, and grape juice all contain significant amounts. (You may notice a pattern—foods rich in these antioxidants tend to be brightly colored or warm.)

Besides promoting eye and brain health, lutein and zeaxanthin may bring other benefits as well. “Research recently showed that it may prevent UVB skin damage,” Brooking says. Animal studies show that lutein and zeaxanthin may protect skin cells from premature aging and tumors caused by UV radiation.

As for how much L and Z to strive for each day, Brooking says there is currently no recommended daily intake. “The amount of lutein and zeaxanthin your body needs may depend on how much stress it endures. For example, smokers may need more lutein and zeaxanthin.”

However, research from a large group known as the Age Related Eye Disease Study 2 found that 10 milligrams of lutein and 2 milligrams of zeaxanthin significantly reduced the progression of age-related macular degeneration.

If you feel that your diet is not providing the amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin that you want, supplements are another possibility. “While it is ideal to consume nutrients through food, many Americans do not eat foods rich in carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin. In such cases, supplementation can be beneficial,” Brooking says.

Although research may take several years to unravel the discrepancy between morbidity and mortality in women’s health, one solution may lie at the bottom of a salad bowl or the end of a smoothie straw.

For benefits for breaking down inflammation, older women can’t go wrong with increasing their intake of carotenoid-rich foods. “For the majority of people, old age is the time when people can truly thrive — if they make the right choices,” Hammond says. “Part of doing that is knowing (and believing) the really right choices.”