Low carotenoid levels in the elderly

Low carotenoid levels could play a role in low mental performance in the elderly

A recent study investigated, in a healthy elderly population, the relationship between cognitive performance measured by five neuropsychological tests and the different plasma carotenoids: xanthophylls (lutein, zeaxanthin, beta-cryptoxanthin) and carotenes (lycopene, alpha-carotene, trans-beta-carotene, and cis-beta-carotene.

The researchers reported that participants with the lowest cognitive performance scores were more likely to have low levels of the specific plasma carotenoids lycopene and zeaxanthin.

Summary of the study:

Plasma carotenoid levels and cognitive performance in an elderly population: results of the EVA Study. Akbaraly NT, Faure H, Gourlet V, Favier A, Berr C.


The hypothesis of carotenoids having a preventive role in cognitive impairment is suggested by  their antioxidant properties.


We examined, in a cross-sectional analysis, the relationship between cognitive performance (assessed by the Mini-Mental State Examination, Trail Making Test Part B, Digit Symbol Substitution, Finger Tapping Test, and Word Fluency Test) and different plasma carotenoids (lutein, zeaxanthin, beta-cryptoxanthin, lycopene, alpha-carotene, and trans-beta-carotene and cis-beta-carotene) in a healthy elderly population (the EVA,"Etude du Vieillissement Artériel," study; n = 589, age = 73.5 /- 3 years).


Logistic regression showed that participants with the lowest cognitive functioning (<25th percentile) had a higher probability of having low levels of specific plasma carotenoids (<1st quartile): lycopene and zeaxanthin. For zeaxanthin, odds ratios (ORs) were as follows: OR(DSS) = 1.97 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.21-3.20), OR(FTT) = 1.70 (CI = 1.05-2.74), and OR(WFT) = 1.82 (CI = 1.08-3.07); for lycopene, OR(DSS) = 1.93 (CI = 1.20-3.12) and OR(TMTB) = 1.64 (CI = 1.04-2.59). 


Even if it is not possible to affirm if these low levels of carotenoids precede or are the consequence of cognitive impairment, our results suggest that low carotenoid levels could play a role in cognitive impairment. The biological significance of our findings needs further research.

N.T. Akbaraly, H. Faure, V. Gourlet, A. Favier, C. Berr. Plasma Carotenoid Levels and Cognitive Performance in an Elderly Population: Results of an EVA Study. Journal of Gerontology: Medical Science. Volume 62A, Number 3, Pages 308-316


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