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The eye nutrient that also boosts your brain

Lutein, found in green veggies, is known for its protective effect on eye health – now research shows it can help support your brain, too

If you’re looking to boost your brainpower, upping your greens might be the way to go. Many contain a carotenoid called lutein, a type of plant pigment that gives fruits and vegetables their colour.

Lutein has long been celebrated for its protective benefits on your eyes.1 Now, neuroscientists are exploring how lutein can be good for our brain too. Research by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign found the nutrient is able to accumulate in brain tissue where it fixes itself to cell membranes and plays a protective role.2

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But exactly how does this translate into better brain functions?

How lutein works against cognitive decline

If you’re struggling to finish a crossword, getting more greens is a smart choice. In a 2017 study of adults aged 25-45, scientists found that older participants with higher levels of lutein in their diets had the same cognitive responses as younger volunteers when completing a task that tested their attention span.3

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Lutein’s memory-boosting powers

According to a 2017 University of Georgia study, those who ate more lutein found memory-related tasks easier than those who ate less.4 Lutein can also help your brain retain particular information. The University of Illinois study found that consuming high levels of lutein helped to preserve what is known as ‘crystallised intelligence’ – the ability to remember skills you have acquired over your lifetime.5

Lutein can improve your reactions

Getting enough lutein in your daily diet can increase the speed at which your brain responds to something. In a 2014 study published in the journal PLOS One, scientists discovered that people who took a daily lutein supplement were able to react to visual information – what they saw in front of them – faster than those who did not.6

The best food sources of lutein

Your body doesn’t naturally produce lutein, so you need to include right sources in your diet to reap the brain benefits. The highest levels of the nutrient can be found in:

  • spinach
  • kale
  • romaine (cos) lettuce
  • asparagus
  • broccoli
  • pistachio nuts
For some vegetables, the cooking process increases levels of lutein. For example, there’s almost double the amount in cooked spinach compared to raw.7

Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.

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1. Roberts RL, Green J, Lewis B. Lutein and zeaxanthin in eye and skin health. Available from:
2. Zamroziewicz MK, et al. Parahippocampal Cortex Mediates the Relationship between Lutein and Crystallized Intelligence in Healthy, Older Adults. Available from:
3. Walk AM, et al. The Role of Retinal Carotenoids and Age on Neuroelectric Indices of Attentional Control among Early to Middle-Aged Adults. Available at:
4. Lindbergh, CA, et al. Relationship of Lutein and Zeaxanthin Levels to Neurocognitive Functioning: An fMRI Study of Older Adults. Available at:
5. As Source 3
6. Bovier ER, Renzi LM, Hammond BR. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study on the effects of lutein and zeaxanthin on neural processing speed and efficiency. Available from:
7. Eisenhauer B, et al. Lutein and Zeaxanthin-Food Sources, Bioavailability and Dietary Variety in Age-Related Macular Degeneration Protection. Available at:

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