Lab-made lutein yoghurt could help people avoid age-related health issues

14 Jun 2023

Image: © pilipphoto/

Naturally occurring lutein levels in fruit and veg have declined so scientists have been trying to come up with a dietary alternative for years.

A group of Irish researchers have developed a yoghurt that contains a key antioxidant that can potentially help stave off conditions like eye disease and Alzheimer’s.

Lutein is the name of the antioxidant that humans need to consume to better prevent health conditions. It is not a cure for any health issue, however.

The antioxidant is an anti-inflammatory xanthophyll carotenoid that is present in leafy green vegetables and certain coloured fruits. It is not produced by the body, but it is found in high amounts in the brain and in the retina in the eye.

Scientists have found that there has been a very noticeable reduction in the amount of lutein found in fruits and vegetables, particularly over the last 40 years. This means people are potentially not getting enough of the nutrient which does not bode well for an ageing population.

While many people are able to take lutein capsule supplements to make up for the lack of lutein in their diet, scientists from the Nutrition Research Centre Ireland (NRCI) in Waterford have developed a lutein formula called FortiXan to add to yoghurt for those who would prefer to get it by dietary means.

The NCRI falls under the VistaMilk umbrella, with VistaMilk being the Science Foundation Ireland research centre for dairy and agriculture.

Scientists at the centre carried out a clinical trial testing the yoghurt formula on 5,000 people. They collaborated with Prof Ríona Mulcahy, a consultant physician in general and geriatric medicine at University Hospital Waterford on the study.

The findings revealed that, when age-matched, there were striking differences in carotenoid levels of those without dementia compared to those with the disease – with Alzheimer’s patients having the lowest levels.

A double-blind placebo-controlled trial was also run looking at the introduction of lutein into the diets of patients already dealing with dementia. The results showed that patients provided with the lutein were seen to have a better quality of life with improved overall moods and a slowdown in loss of memory compared to those not provided with lutein. They also had better vision results.

Prof John Nolan, principal investigator at the NRCI explained, “Our research has demonstrated that lutein, along with other carotenoids, is really effective at enhancing vision across all the ages and also for patients with age AMD and Alzheimer’s disease”.

“Nature wants us to have these carotenoids from a very young age, but the food we are eating is deficient in carotenoids. FortiXan yoghurt is a unique method of delivery that will enable these essential nutrients to reach a wider population group including children and vulnerable individuals who may experience difficulties in swallowing.”

Nolan and his colleagues at NCRI and VistaMilk are working with international lutein researchers to bring the product to market.

“We believe that lutein should be considered as an essential nutrient in everyone’s daily diet and that FortiXan yoghurt should become a valuable source of the nutrient alongside more traditional sources,” said Nolan, adding that the team was seeking “a visionary partner to recognise the importance” of the discovery.

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Blathnaid O’Dea is Careers reporter at Silicon Republic