Cataracts and age-related macular degeneration are the leading causes of visual impairment and acquired blindness in the U.S. The potential severity of vision loss from either condition and the irreversibility of macular degeneration have generated significant interest in “preventative care” or ways to delay the progression of both conditions. Studies show nutrition is one promising means of protecting the eyes from these diseases. The National Eye Institute reported in2013 on a seven-year study, AREDS II that evaluated the benefits of specific nutritional supplements with respect to cataracts and macular degeneration. In addition, there were many other studies prior to AREDS II that concurred with the NEI findings. Turns out the green leafy vegetables beat carrots hands down.
Carotenoids are colorful plant pigments some of which the body can turn into vitamin A. They are very powerful antioxidants or anti-aging substances. There are over 600carotenoids however, six account for most of those found in the human diet: alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, betacryptoxanthin, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Research shows that the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin are the only carotenoids located in the eye and it has been determined they protect against cataracts and macular degeneration.
In one of the first studies on carotenoids, the Eye Disease Case Control Study, diet was compared to the risk for developing macular degeneration. Results found that people with high amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin in their blood had a lower incidence of macular degeneration. When comparing the consumption of lutein and zeaxanthin, (5.8mg vs. 1.2mg)the incidence of macular degeneration was less for those consuming the higher intake.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed similar results in that they found individuals consuming 6 mg per day of lutein plus zeaxanthin were associated with a reduced risk for developing macular degeneration.
Lutein and zeaxanthin intake in relation to cataracts has been examined as well. Two different studies, The Nurses’ Health Study and The Health Professional’s Follow-Up Study found that consuming 6-7mg a day of lutein plus zeaxanthin reduced the need for cataract surgery. In addition, the fiveyear follow-up to the Beaver Dam Eye Study showed that people who ingested the most lutein and zeaxanthin had a much lower risk for developing cataracts than people who ingested the least amounts.
Given the positive association between lutein and zeaxanthin and age-related eye disease, it is essential for people to incorporate high amounts of these nutrients in their daily diet. Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, as currently recommended by the National Cancer Institute and U.S. Department of Agriculture, can provide 5 to 6 mg of carotenoids, including lutein and zeaxanthin.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are found together in many food sources. Dark green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, broccoli, collard greens, turnip greens, and romaine lettuce are the primary source of lutein and zeaxanthin. They are also present in lesser amounts in other colorful fruits and vegetables, such as orange peppers, corn, peas, zucchini, brussels sprouts, persimmons and tangerines. If you find it difficult to increase the amount of these carotenoids in your diet, multivitamins and eye health supplements containing lutein and zeaxanthin are available.
If you have questions about your diet and eye health, please contact our offices in Stillwater at 405-372-1715. We also invite you to visit our website at www.cockrelleyecare.comand like us on Facebook at Cockrell Eye Care Center!