Nutrients in eggs work together to support infant brain development

Nutrients in eggs work together to support infant brain development

Jen Houchins, PhD, RD


Nutrients in Eggs

Key Takeaways:

  • Maternal intake of eggs and the nutrients found in eggs (choline, lutein/zeaxanthin, DHA) may have a synergistic association with fetal neurodevelopment, which suggests that eggs provide more nutritional value than just the sum of their parts.
  • Since brain development is most rapid between conception and 24 months, pregnant women should be encouraged to include eggs in their diets.


“Brain development is most rapid during the first 1,000 days, from conception to age 24 months, and adequate nutrition is critical for this process.  Key nutrients include fat (particularly long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids…), protein, iron, iodine, zinc, copper, choline, and the B vitamins.”1 While there is significant evidence demonstrating a positive impact of single nutrients2,3 there are no studies that have investigated the interaction of nutrients on fetal brain development.  A new study published in Nutritional Neuroscience found that maternal intake of eggs and nutrients found in eggs (i.e., choline, lutein/zeaxanthin, and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)) have synergistic associations with fetal neurodevelopment, suggesting eggs are more than the sum of its parts.

This recent study conducted at the University of Kansas Medical Center was a secondary analysis of a randomized controlled trial evaluating the effect of different doses of DHA on fetal and infant brain developmen4.  Dietary data were collected to evaluate egg and nutrient intake during pregnancy, and measures of fetal neurodevelopment were assessed at 32 and 36 weeks gestation.  A significant interaction between maternal choline intake and lutein/zeaxanthin intake and fetal brain maturation was found at both 32 and 36 weeks gestation.  The interaction between choline intake, lutein/zeaxanthin intake, and DHA predicted brain maturation at 36 weeks, which suggests a synergistic impact.  Maternal egg intake also predicted measures of fetal neurodevelopment at both 32 and 36 weeks.  The authors conclude that egg consumption should be encouraged among pregnant women.2

Similar results were found in a previous study at the University of North Carolina. In this study, higher human milk choline and lutein levels, as well as higher choline and DHA levels, were associated with better recognition memory in 6-month old infants.3 In this secondary analysis of a larger study with exclusively breastfed infants, the authors concluded, “interactions between human milk nutrients appear important in predicting infant cognition, and there may be a benefit to specific nutrient combinations.”

Eggs provide various amounts of all of the nutrients listed by the American Academy of Pediatrics as essential for brain growth,5 including 12% Daily Value (DV) of high quality protein, 6% DV for zinc, 4% DV for iron, 25% DV for choline, 6% DV for folate, 20% DV for iodine, 8% DV for vitamin A, 6% DV for vitamin D, 6% DV for vitamin B6, 20% DV for vitamin B12, 18 mg α-linolenic acid (ALA), 29 mg docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), as well as 252 mcg lutein + zeaxanthin.6  Overall, we know these nutrients are individually linked to brain health, but growing evidence suggests there can be important interactions among key nutrients.2,3,7  Intervention trials are needed to confirm findings for brain development, however, these new data support recommendations that include egg consumption by pregnant women and children.

For more information about the benefits of choline during pregnancy and beyond, check out this helpful handout about prenatal and infant health.

  1. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee: Advisory Report to the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. 2020; Available from:

  2. Christifano, D.N., et al., Intake of eggs, choline, lutein, zeaxanthin, and DHA during pregnancy and their relationship to fetal neurodevelopment. Nutr Neurosci, 2022: p. 1-7.

  3. Cheatham, C.L. and K.W. Sheppard, Synergistic Effects of Human Milk Nutrients in the Support of Infant Recognition Memory: An Observational Study. Nutrients, 2015. 7(11): p. 9079-95.

  4. Gustafson, K.M., et al., Prenatal docosahexaenoic acid effect on maternal-infant DHA-equilibrium and fetal neurodevelopment: a randomized clinical trial. Pediatr Res, 2022. 92(1): p. 255-264.

  5. Schwarzenberg, S.J. and M.K. Georgieff, Advocacy for Improving Nutrition in the First 1000 Days to Support Childhood Development and Adult Health. Pediatrics, 2018. 141(2).

  6. U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central SR Legacy — Egg, whole, raw, fresh. 2019 April 1, 2019; Available from:

  7. Klatt, K.C., et al., Prenatal choline supplementation improves biomarkers of maternal docosahexaenoic acid status among pregnant participants consuming supplemental DHA: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr, 2022.

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New study for aging adults: egg intake associated with slower rate of memory decline

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New study for aging adults: egg intake associated with slower rate of memory decline

Jen Houchins, PhD


Nutritious Dietary Patterns

By 2030, one in five Americans will be aged 65 years and older, and for some of these aging adults, cognitive and memory issues can impact their day-to-day functioning and quality of life.1  There is growing interest in the possible role of healthy eating to protect against later cognitive impairment, and new data continue to support eggs as an important food to help support healthy aging. 

A recent study supported by the American Egg Board found that consuming even limited amounts of eggs (about 1 egg per week) was linked to slower memory decline later in life compared to consuming no eggs.2  While more investigations are needed to evaluate if higher egg consumption may have a stronger impact, these data support an important role for eggs as part of the diet for older adults.

This new study evaluated data from 470 participants 50 years and older in the Adventist Health Study-2 to examine if egg intake levels predict the rate of memory decline.  Egg consumption was divided into low (about half an egg), intermediate (half to 1 ½ eggs), and high (about two or more eggs).  The low egg intake group had the largest rate of memory decline over time, and while there was no difference detected at age 50 or 60, lower memory performance was observed at age 70 and 80.  Over time, the intermediate egg group had significantly lower rate of decline in memory performance compared to the low egg intake group.  In other words, even a very small amount of egg included in the diet (as little as ½ to 1 egg per week) was associated with a beneficial impact on memory.

This study is unique not only because it evaluated memory over time (instead of just one point in time), but also because it evaluated the impact of eggs alone, with adjustment for other foods in the diet.  More studies are needed to evaluate if higher egg consumption can have a stronger impact on maintaining cognitive function over time in aging adults.  Further, while the large number of participants in this cohort helps to establish relationships, intervention trials are needed to establish causality.

The American Heart Association recommends up to 2 eggs per day for healthy (normocholesterolemic) older adults within a healthy dietary pattern.3  Eggs have a unique nutrient package that may be especially beneficial to aging adults, who generally have lower calorie requirements but increased nutrient needs.4  Eggs are a good source of high-quality protein and an excellent source of vitamin B12, as well as nutrients that are underconsumed by the entire population including choline (25% DV in a large egg) and vitamin D (6% DV in a large egg).  Finally, the 252 mcg lutein + zeaxanthin give the yolk its yellow color.  These carotenoids accumulate in the macula of the eye and have been associated with reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration.5 

For ideas of how to incorporate eggs into a healthy diet, please see our recipe collection, including the heart-healthy recipes!

  1. Centers for Diesease Control and Prevention. Chronic Diseases and Cognitive Decline — A Public Health Issue. 2020; Available from:

  2. Lee, G.J., et al., Egg intake moderates the rate of memory decline in healthy older adults. Journal of Nutritional Science, 2021. 10: p. e79.

  3. Carson, J.A.S., et al., Dietary Cholesterol and Cardiovascular Risk: A Science Advisory From the American Heart Association. Circulation, 2019: p. Cir0000000000000743

  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 2020; Available from:

  5. Mares, J., Lutein and Zeaxanthin Isomers in Eye Health and Disease. Annu Rev Nutr, 2016. 36: p. 571-602.

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4 Nutrients that are Vital for Healthy Aging

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4 Nutrients That Are Vital for Healthy Aging

Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD

Nutrients in Eggs


The Egg Nutrition Center partnered with Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD to write this blog post.

September is Healthy Aging Month! No matter your age, it’s never too late to take charge of your health. Throughout the decades, several nutrients become more and more crucial to maintain physical and cognitive health. Luckily, including eggs in the daily diet is a good way to consume these vital nutrients. In fact, the American Heart Association recently provided recommendations for how eggs can fit into a heart healthy diet, and while an egg a day is recommended for most adults, AHA recommends up to two eggs per day for healthy older adults. Not to mention that eggs are affordable and easy to prepare, making them a great staple for anyone. Below are some nutrients in eggs that are beneficial for aging.



1. Choline

More than 90% of Americans fail to take in the recommended amount choline,1 and adults 71 and older  only consume about half the daily requirement.2 The adequate intake for people over 19 years old is 550 mg/day for men and 425 mg/day for women.

Research has found that low concentrations of free choline in the blood is associated with poor cognitive performance in older adults.3 In other words, consuming the recommended amount of daily choline can have potential cognitive benefits for older adults. Fortunately, two large eggs contain about 300mg of choline, or more than half of the recommended daily intake.


2. Lutein and zeaxanthin

These two carotenoids are plant compounds that have been shown to improve eye health, as well as cognitive function in older adults. Lutein and zeaxanthin are selectively taken up into the macula – the central area at the back of the eye. There, they make up the macular pigment, which provides the central vision necessary for activities like reading and driving. Studies suggest that lutein consumption improves age-related macular degeneration.

In addition, several studies suggest that lutein-rich foods may prevent or delay cognitive decline in the elderly.4  Eggs have both lutein and zeaxanthin, and eating eggs regularly has been associated with improved cognitive performance in adults.5 It’s important to point out that the lutein is found in the yolk, so make sure to recommend eating the whole egg!


3. Protein

People over the age of 30 can lose 3-8% of muscle mass per year, and the rate of decline is even more significant after the age of 60. Not only are muscles important for exercise and physical activity, but they are also necessary for everyday tasks, like picking something up off the ground or opening a jar. In other words, maintaining muscle mass throughout the years helps you stay strong and healthy.

Eating enough protein is an important element of muscle mass with a minimum requirement of 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight (or 0.36 per pound of body weight) each day. One large egg has 6 grams of high-quality protein and all 9 essential amino acids. Plus it’s easy to add to any meal since it cooks in minutes.


4. Vitamin D

Although many recognize calcium as a mineral essential to bone health, Vitamin D also plays a crucial role. Vitamin D contributes to bone formation and mineralization, and Vitamin D deficiency is associated with osteoporosis in seniors.6

The main source of Vitamin D is the sun, but absorption is limited based on time spent outdoors, skin tone and weather. Vitamin D isn’t naturally present in many foods, but two large eggs have about 12% of the daily value!



No matter the month, it’s always a good choice to add eggs to your diet. With their rich nutrient profile, ease of preparation and affordability, eggs are a go-to staple for everyone. Add a dozen eggs to your grocery list today to make the most of Healthy Aging Month!


  1. Wallace TC, Fulgoni VL III. Assessment of total choline intakes in the United States. J Am Coll Nutr 2016, 35(2), 108-112.

  2. Choline, Memory & Cognitive Development. The Choline Information Council website. Accessed May 23, 2019.

  3. Nurk E, Refsum H, Bjelland I, et al. Plasma free choline, betaine and cognitive performance: the Hordaland Health Study. Br J Nutr. 2013;109:511–519.

  4. Hammond BR, et al. Effects of lutein/zeaxanthin supplementation on the cognitive function of community dwelling older adults: A randomized, double-masked, placebo-controlled trial. Front Aging Neurosci [Internet]. 2017 Aug 3;9.)

  5. Ylilauri MPT, et al. Association of dietary cholesterol and egg intakes with the risk of incident dementia or Alzheimer disease: The Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Am J Clin Nutr.2016;105:476-484.


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Choline Throughout the Life-Span

11 NC Quinoa Crust Vegetable Quiche

Choline Throughout the Life-Span

Katie Hayes, RDN

Eggs Across the Lifespan



Choline is an essential nutrient, meaning that we must consume adequate amounts in the diet to achieve optimal health. Unfortunately, most people do not consume enough choline. In fact, more than 90% of Americans (including approximately 90% of pregnant women) fail to meet the adequate intake.1 The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has classified choline as a nutrient that poses special challenges for Americans due to underconsumption and encouraged eggs for pregnant women, as a complementary food for babies and toddlers, and for pre-teens and adolescents.2 Many foods offer choline in small amounts, however, only a few foods are significant choline sources.  Furthermore, most multivitamin supplements contain little, if any, choline. Fortunately, eggs are convenient, affordable, accessible, and an excellent source of choline.

Beginning in fetal development, Choline is critical to good health and remains essential throughout the lifespan. This nutrient is important in many ways.

  • During pregnancy, choline helps the baby’s brain and spinal cord develop properly and supports brain health throughout life.
  • Infants and young children need choline for continued brain development and health.
  • Choline is part of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which is important for muscle control, memory and mood.3
  • Choline is also important for the support of membranes that surround your cells, the transportation of fats throughout the body and for liver health.
  • New research is exploring how choline throughout life may have lasting effects on cognition and prevention of cognitive decline.4


The amount of choline an individual needs depends on many things, including age, gender and stage of life. Table 1 lists the current Adequate Intakes (AIs) for choline.3


People of all ages need adequate choline for good health, but very few consume enough through food and supplements. While many foods contain some choline, only a handful of foods are considered good or excellent sources. Fortunately, two large eggs (about 300mg of choline) contain more than half of the recommended intake for pregnant women and can help them meet their needs. The table below lists food sources of choline.2


Choline plays a role in early brain development during pregnancy and infancy. There is evidence that infants exposed to higher levels of maternal choline (930 mg/day) during the third trimester have improved information processing speed, an indicator of cognitive function,4,5 during the first year of life.

The American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates recommended the addition of choline to prenatal vitamins because of its essentiality in promoting cognitive development of the offspring.6 This recommendation from AMA highlights the increased recognition of choline as a nutrient of concern. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) also list choline as a nutrient under consumed by most Americans. The DGAs recommend individuals shift to healthier eating patterns to help meet nutrient needs, including choline.7

Interested in more information about choline?

  1. Wallace TC, Fulgoni VL III. Assessment of total choline intakes in the United States. J Am Coll Nutr 2016, 35(2), 108-112.

  2. National Institutes of Health. Fact Sheet for Health Professionals: Choline. Version current 26 September 2018. June 22, 2020.

  3. Wallace TC. A comprehensive review of eggs, choline, and lutein on cognition across the life-span. J Am Coll Nutr 2018, 37(4), 269-285.

  4. Caudill MA, et al. Maternal choline supplementation during the third trimester of pregnancy improves infant information processing speed: a randomized, double-blind, controlled feeding study. FASEB J. 2018;32:2172-2180.

  5. AMA Wire. AMA backs global health experts in calling infertility a disease.

  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at

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Fuel Your Brain with Nutrient Rich Eggs

Brain Health Blog Post Jessica Ivey Hero

Fuel Your Brain with Nutrient-Rich Eggs

Jessica Ivey, RDN, LDN

The Egg Nutrition Center partnered with Jessica Ivey, RDN, LDN to write this blog post.


June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, making it the perfect time to consider the importance of brain health. With increased concern about brain diseases, researchers in the growing field of neuronutrition are examining how foods affect the health of our brains and scientists working on the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are evaluating how nutrition impacts neurocognitive health throughout the lifespan. Eggs are a key part of this research because they contain choline and lutein, two nutrients that are important for brain development, memory and learning.

Choline plays a critical role in brain development and health during fetal development and throughout the lifespan. In utero, choline helps the baby’s brain and spinal cord develop properly. Choline is an essential nutrient, meaning that our bodies can’t produce it in sufficient amounts so we have to get it in our diets.

Approximately 90% of Americans fall short of the recommended intake of choline,1 and intake declines with age. Adults age 71 and older consume on average about half their daily requirement of choline.2 Low concentrations of free choline in the blood have been associated with poor cognitive performance in older adults,3 indicating that a focus on increasing choline intake at this stage of life could have potential benefits.

Lutein is a carotenoid and is sometimes referred to as the “eye vitamin” due to its role in eye health. In addition to being good for your vision, higher brain and serum concentrations of lutein have been associated with better cognitive function in older adults.4

Eggs have both of these nutrients, and regular consumption of eggs has been associated with improved cognitive performance in adults.5 Be sure to enjoy the whole egg, including the yolk, where choline and lutein are found. Eggs are one of the best food sources of choline, with two large eggs providing about 300 mg of choline. Pair eggs with other nutritious foods, like vegetables and whole grains, to build balanced meals to fuel your body and brain.

Try these nutrient-packed recipes:


Jessica Ivey, RDN, LDN, is a dietitian and chef with a passion for teaching people to eat healthy for a happy and delicious life. Jessica offers approachable healthy living tips, from fast recipes to meal prep guides and ways to enjoy exercise on her website, Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

  1. Wallace, TC, Blusztajn, JK, Caudill, MA, Klatt, KC, Natker E, Zeisel, SH, and KM Zelman.  Choline The Underconsumed and Underappreciated Essential Nutrient.  Nutrition Today.  November/December 2018.

  2. Choline, Memory & Cognitive Development. The Choline Information Council website. Accessed May 23, 2019.

  3. Nurk E, Refsum H, Bjelland I, et al. Plasma free choline, betaine and cognitive performance: the Hordaland Health Study. Br J Nutr. 2013;109:511–519.

  4. Johnson EJ, Vishwanathan R, Johnson MA, et al. Relationship between Serum and Brain Carotenoids, α-Tocopherol, and Retinol Concentrations and Cognitive Performance in the Oldest Old from the Georgia Centenarian Study. J Aging Res. 2013;2013:951786.

  5. Ylilauri MPT, et al. Association of dietary cholesterol and egg intakes with the risk of incident dementia or Alzheimer disease: The Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016;105:476-484.

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Lutein – The Eye’s and Brain’s Best Friend

M Lutein The Eyes And Brains Best Friend 1125x1125

Lutein – The Eye’s and Brain’s Best Friend

Jirayu Tanprasertsuk, MS and Emily Mohn, PhD


Featured article in the Fall 2018 Issue of Nutrition Close-Up; written by Jirayu Tanprasertsuk, MS and Emily Mohn, PhD

Autumn is the perfect time to observe carotenoids in nature.

Carotenoids are a group of plant pigments that are responsible for the beautiful yellow, orange, and red foliage during this season. We also find carotenoids in many of the colorful fruits and vegetables we eat. Although there are more than 600 naturally occurring carotenoids, only six of them are common in the American diet. Most of us are familiar with beta-carotene, responsible for the orange color of carrots and sweet potatoes, and lycopene, responsible for the red color of tomatoes. Lutein is a carotenoid found mostly in green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach, but is also found in eggs and avocados. The amount of lutein in selected food sources is provided in Table 1.

Because carotenoids are fat-soluble, the intestine absorbs them better when they are consumed with fat. For example, adding avocado or oil to a salad significantly increases lutein absorption. Another good example is egg yolk. Because of its fat content, egg yolk is a highly bioavailable source of lutein.

Among all major dietary carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin (found in the same food sources but in about 1/5 the amount as lutein) are uniquely important for visual health. Only these two carotenoids are selectively taken up into the macula – the central area at the back of the eye – where they comprise macular pigment (MP). MP provides the sharp central vision we need for activities like reading and driving.

MP is often viewed as an intrinsic pair of sunglasses that screens out damaging blue light from the sun and electronic devices. Just like UV rays damage the skin, blue light exposure over a lifetime causes damage to the macula and may lead to age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and blindness in older individuals. The density of MP reflects the amount of lutein (and zeaxanthin) in the macula. MP density can be measured simply, quickly, and non-invasively in humans. Many studies that have measured MP density have found that adults with higher MP density have a lower risk for AMD.1 For younger individuals (18-40 years old), increased MP density improves contrast sensitivity, reduces glare, and enhances visual performance during activities in low ambient illumination, like driving at night.

While lutein’s role in vision has been investigated for decades, an additional role beyond the eye has emerged in more recent years. In 2008, a clinical trial studying lutein and visual health surprisingly found that adults (60-80 years old) supplemented with lutein (with or without DHA – a fatty acid found in fatty fish like salmon) improved their cognitive performance by the end of the trial.2 This finding sparked a wave of investigations into lutein’s novel role in cognition.

Analysis of post-mortem brain samples from older adults found that lutein is the most predominant carotenoid in the brain, despite being consumed less than other carotenoids. This suggests that, like the macula, the brain preferentially takes up lutein from the diet, presumably for a specific purpose. Moreover, older individuals who are more cognitively intact tend to have higher brain lutein levels.3

Since the eyes are anatomically an extended system of the brain, researchers wondered whether MP density may be a biomarker of brain lutein levels. Indeed, an investigation into matched macula and brain tissues found that MP density was related to brain lutein concentrations.4 Many studies have since demonstrated that older individuals with higher MP density, which reflects higher brain lutein content, have better cognition across different domains like memory, language, and learning.1

Why is lutein important for cognition? The answer remains unclear, but may be related to the anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties of lutein. Current studies investigating where lutein localizes in the brain may shed additional light on its mechanism of action.

Since 2008, several intervention studies using lutein-rich foods or supplements have yielded promising results for preventing or delaying cognitive decline in the elderly.5–7 An unofficial recommended intake for lutein, based on evidences regarding visual function, is currently set at 6 mg/d. However, the averaged US intake is only 1-2 mg/d.1

Advanced age is a major risk factor for both AMD and age-related cognitive impairment. As the American population ages, lutein may play a critical role in preventing both diseases at a national scale. Given that lutein can only be obtained through consumption, it is important to incorporate various sources of lutein in our diet to keep our eyes and brain healthy as we age.

Table 1. Lutein/zeaxanthin content in selected food sources1

FoodAmount (mg)/ serving unit
Avocado0.3/half fruit
Broccoli1.7/half cup
Egg, hard-boiled0.2/one large
Spinach, cooked6.7/half cup
Spinach, raw4.5/half cup
Kale, cooked10.3/half cup

Jirayu Tanprasertsuk, MS is a PhD candidate at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and a research assistant at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. His research focuses on investigating the relationship between fat-soluble nutrients, including carotenoids, and cognitive health.

Emily Mohn, PhD is finishing her postdoctoral position at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University where she studies the transport of dietary carotenoids in the circulation and their effects on cognition. Emily recently joined the RNA Therapeutics Institute at UMass Medical School as a Scientific Writer. 

  1. Johnson EJ. Role of lutein and zeaxanthin in visual and cognitive function throughout the lifespan. Nutr Rev. 2014 Sep;72(9):605–12.

  2. Johnson EJ, et al. Cognitive findings of an exploratory trial of docosahexaenoic acid and lutein supplementation in older women. Nutr Neurosci. 2008 Apr 1;11(2):75–83.

  3. Johnson EJ, et al. Relationship between serum and brain carotenoids, α-tocopherol, and retinol concentrations and cognitive performance in the oldest old from the Georgia Centenarian Study. J Aging Res. 2013;2013:1–13.

  4. Vishwanathan R, et al. Macular pigment carotenoids in the retina and occipital cortex are related in humans. Nutr Neurosci. 2016 Mar 15;19(3):95–101.

  5. Nolan JM, et al. Nutritional intervention to prevent Alzheimer’s disease: Potential benefits of xanthophyll carotenoids and omega-3 fatty acids Combined. J Alzheimers Dis. 2018 Jan 1;64(2):367–78.

  6. Hammond BR, et al. Effects of lutein/zeaxanthin supplementation on the cognitive function of community dwelling older adults: A randomized, double-masked, placebo-controlled trial. Front Aging Neurosci [Internet]. 2017 Aug 3;9.

  7. Tammy Scott, et al. Avocado consumption increases macular pigment density in older adults: A randomized, controlled trial. Nutrients. 2017 Aug 23;9(9):919.

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