Pregnancy through Infancy

infancyThere are several signs that lutein plays an early role in infant development. Lutein is the major carotenoid found in infants’ brains.1 That’s despite the fact that beta-carotene represents 43 percent of the carotenoids that infants consume.2 What this likely means is that infants’ bodies absorb a greater percentage of the lutein they consume when compared to the amount of beta-carotene they consume and absorb. Our bodies’ tendency is to absorb a greater percentage of the nutrients we need even if they are not as readily available in the diet.

It’s also notable that lutein is present in the blood collected from the umbilical cord at the time of birth, indicating that lutein is transferred to the baby via the placenta. Blood levels of lutein in babies are also related to mothers’ blood levels, which vary with mother’s dietary intakes. Lutein is the major carotenoid found in breast milk and breast-fed infants have higher concentrations of lutein in the blood than infants who consume formula unfortified with lutein.3

As an antioxidant, lutein protects the nerve tissue of the brain against oxidative stress during key periods, like during infant development.4 Low lutein status early in life could negatively affect early brain and eye development and increase the vulnerability of damage to the nerve cells in the from oxidation. In one study, infants supplemented with lutein immediately after birth reduced the development of harmful substances known as free radicals.5

Lutein is present in a baby’s eyes as early as the seventeenth week of pregnancy. Along with zeaxanthin isomers, lutein is concentrated in a part of the retina that develops rapidly during a child’s first year of life, particularly important during such a critical development stage. Lutein may also protect the eyes and brain against oxidative damage caused by free radicals. It is important to remember that a newborn infant must adjust from an environment of low oxygen tension to one of high oxygen tension at a time when antioxidant reserves are more limited. Lutein is concentrated at levels up to 1000-fold higher in the retina compared to the rest of the body.6


1 ACTA Biologica Cracoviensia, 2011, 53(1)
2 NHANES, 1988-94
3 Eur J Nutr. Feb 2010; 49(1): 45–51
4 Optometry 2004;75:216–30
5 Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2014; 2014: 781454