As you know, I call stress “the silent killer.” And I talk a lot about how to reduce stress with natural approaches like spending more time in Nature. But what about food? Do the foods you eat play a role in keeping down stress?
Of course they do.
In fact, according to a new study, two key carotenoids found in fruits and vegetables may naturally help you reduce stress, depression, and anxiety.
The two carotenoids involved in the study ¾ lutein and zeaxanthin — are found most abundantly in the leaves of plants. They’re known as xanthophyll carotenoids because of the yellow pigments they impart to fruits and vegetables. (Xanthos means yellow in Greek.)
The xanthophyll pigments also protect plant cells from the heat and radiation of excess sunlight. After all, plants can’t move into the shade when it gets hot. Plants are the shade.
The color of egg yolk also comes from the xanthophyll carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. These added nutrients help eggs become such a perfect food. (Unfortunately, as I reported earlier this week, the government handed out misguided advice to avoid eggs for the past four decades.)
Zeaxanthin is one of the most common carotenoids found in Nature. Although, medical researchers and the natural products industry neglected studying it until recently.
Its name comes from Zea mays, the botanical name for the common crop maize, or corn. The natural varieties of corn, originally cultivated by Native Americans, had brilliant yellow color (as well as other colors) due to the presence of natural plant pigments like zeaxanthin.
Today’s varieties of corn suffer from centuries of selective breeding, which resulted in a nutritionally depleted crop high in sugar but low in nutrients. In the 20th century, agro-businesses began irradiating corn to bring about selective mutations. And now, in the 21st century, “yellow” corn (now a pale shadow of itself) is virtually all genetically modified.
But you can still get these carotenoids in other fruits and vegetables, and in dietary supplements.
In the July 2017 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter, you can read about how carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin help improve cognitive function and prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia (so if you’re not already a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started.) It makes sense because lutein gets past the blood-brain barrier. This is one reason lutein is so important for eye health as well, as the eye originally derived from nervous system tissue.
In addition, lutein and zeaxanthin may support emotional health, as the new randomized, controlled clinical trial suggests…
Carotenoids help you manage stress, depression & anxiety
For this study, researchers analyzed data from the LAMA II Clinical Trial. They randomly assigned 59 healthy, young adults ages 18 to 25 years to receive a low or high dose of carotenoids, or a placebo, for 12 months.
They found that six months of supplementation with lutein/zeaxanthin isomers led to significant improvements in measures of emotional and physical health. The participants also experienced significant reductions in blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In my view, [low] cortisol supports healthy aging.
Participants maintained these improvements after one year of supplementation at both dosages tested: lutein/zeaxanthin at 10/2 mg and for double the dose at 20/4 mg.
In their report, the researchers referred to lutein and zeaxanthin as macular carotenoids, as they support eye health.
The researchers also measured the participants’ “macular pigment density” (MPOD), which indicates the level of xanthophyll carotenoids in the eye, as well as serum cortisol levels. They also administered psychology stress evaluations, and the Beck anxiety/depression evaluation.
Participants who started the study with higher MPOD, before dietary supplementation, had better psychological status. Plus, supplementation with both low and high doses of carotenoids showed improvements in all measures after six months. Results suggest that simple dietary supplementation with carotenoids can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
I have talked a lot today about the origins of the different names of carotenoids. A simple name gives a lot of insight into botanical and biological properties. For example, carotenoid derives comes from the word carrot — the vegetable in which researchers first found and identified bright yellow-orange pigments.
Maybe there was a hidden prophecy in all those old Warner Brothers cartoons, when Bugs Bunny (the voice of Mel Blanc) would wiggle his eyebrows and ask, “What’s up, Doc?”
“Supplementation with macular carotenoids reduces psychological stress, serum cortisol, and sub-optimal symptoms of physical and emotional health in young adults,” Nutritional Neuroscience (http://www.tandfonline.com) 2/15/2017