Maternal Intake of Lutein and Zeaxanthin during Pregnancy Is Positively Associated with Offspring Verbal Intelligence and Behavior Regulation in Mid-Childhood in the Project Viva Cohort

J Nutr. 2021 Mar 11;151(3):615-627. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxaa348.


Background: Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids associated with better cognition at older age. To our knowledge, no previous study has evaluated their cognitive implications in the prenatal period, when the brain undergoes its most rapid development.

Objective: The objective of this study was to examine associations of maternal lutein and zeaxanthin (L/Z) intake during pregnancy with child cognition.

Design: Among 1580 mother-child pairs in Project Viva, a prospective cohort, we assessed maternal intake of L/Z during pregnancy using food frequency questionnaires and offspring cognition by the Visual Recognition Memory paradigm in infancy, the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test and the Wide Range Assessment of Visual Motor Abilities (WRAVMA) in early childhood, and the Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test (KBIT-II), the WRAVMA drawing subtest, and the Wide Range Assessment of Memory and Learning in mid-childhood. Parents completed the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF) and Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire.

Results: Mothers consumed a daily mean (SD) of 2.6 (2.0) mg L/Z in the first and second trimesters of pregnancy. Mean mid-childhood KBIT-II verbal scores were higher with greater maternal L/Z intake [difference of Q4-Q1 means for first trimester: 2.67 (95% CI: 0.13, 5.20) and for second trimester: 3.55 (95% CI: 0.81, 6.28)], indicating better verbal intelligence. Secondary analyses on cognitive subtests showed that mean mid-childhood BRIEF Behavioral Regulation Index scores were lower with greater maternal L/Z intake [difference of Q4-Q1 means for first trimester: -1.63 (95% CI: -3.22, -0.04) and for second trimester: -1.89 (95% CI: -3.58, -0.21)], indicating better behavior regulation ability.

Conclusions: Higher maternal L/Z intake during pregnancy was associated with better offspring verbal intelligence and behavior regulation ability in mid-childhood, suggesting a potential benefit during prenatal development. We did not find a benefit of higher maternal L/Z intake on other child cognitive or behavioral outcomes. Project Viva is registered at as NCT02820402.

Keywords: birth cohort; childhood cognition; cognitive development; early development; early life nutrition; lutein and zeaxanthin; maternal diet during pregnancy; prenatal nutrition; programming.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavior / drug effects*
  • Child
  • Child Development
  • Cognition
  • Cohort Studies
  • Diet
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence / drug effects*
  • Lutein / administration & dosage*
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects
  • Prenatal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Zeaxanthins / administration & dosage*


  • Zeaxanthins
  • Lutein

Associated data