It’s widely known that nutrients like folic acid, iron and calcium are vital for a healthy pregnancy, but new research1 from Abbott suggests that after your baby is born, both you and baby also need the combination of lutein, natural vitamin E and DHA to support brain development, encourage early learning skills and give your new bundle of joy the best start in life.
Nature knows best and that’s why lutein, natural vitamin E and DHA are found together in the regions of the brain that are responsible for learning and memory.
In fact, it’s the precise combination of these brain-boosting nutrients that – in a cell culture model - provide 80 percent more neuronal connections than DHA alone. This research suggests that they may work together in a unique way to increase processing speed and improve learning.
“Babies in the womb are busy building the 100 to 200 million brain cells that they’re going to have when they’re born,” according to Matt Kuchan, Ph.D., a discovery scientist and the global lead for Abbott’s partnership with the Center for Nutrition Learning and Memory at the University of Illinois.
“Throughout the first year of life, baby’s brain continues to develop and build hundreds of neural connections faster than at any other time in their lives. That rapid development sets the stage for learning, cognition and memory for the rest of their lives – all of which makes the quality of the nutrition they get that much more important,” he explains.
A Brain-Boosting Combination
So, what’s so special about these three nutrients?
Video: What is Lutein?
And, there is another critical role that these nutrients play. “Vitamin E, along with lutein, protects DHA from oxidative damage, a process that can interfere with DHA’s important structural role in important brain cell membranes. A special kind of membrane, synaptic membranes, is important for the quality of the developing connections in baby’s brain,” Kuchan explains. It’s important, however, that you get natural vitamin E in your diet instead of synthetic vitamin E because studies show that the natural form is better utilized by the body.
How to Get All 3 Nutrients
Since our bodies cannot make natural vitamin E or lutein, and some infants may not make enough DHA, it’s important to get these three nutrients through your diet if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding or make sure your baby is fed an infant formula that contains all these nutrients.
1. Green Leafy Vegetables
Lutein is found in green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, broccoli, Swiss chard, collard greens and romaine lettuce. Eggs and brightly colored fruits like kiwi and grapes are also rich in lutein.
2. Nuts and Seeds
Excellent sources of natural vitamin E include sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts; sunflower oil, safflower oil and soybean oil; green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and asparagus; and seafood such as salmon, trout, shrimp and oysters.
DHA is found in fish like salmon, mackerel, herring and trout and nuts such as walnuts, almonds, cashews and pistachios are excellent sources too.
If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you should talk to your doctor to make sure you’re taking a prenatal vitamin that includes lutein, natural vitamin E and DHA. If you’re not exclusively breastfeeding, choose an infant formula with all three as well.