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Good food in sight

                                   January 2010  

Good food in sight

Good food in sightA friend told me that eating fresh spinach every day can help protect against age-related macular degeneration or AMD.

This was of particular interest because here in the UK over 25% of people over 60 years old have some degree of visual loss because of AMD and of course many people suffer from severely restricted sight or even blindness because of this disease.

It seems that spinach can indeed be good because it is a good source of the pigment lutein. Lutein occurs naturally in the retina, helping to absorb UV blue light, the most damaging wavelength of sunlight. Tests also show that spinach is a good antioxidant which again helps to maintain the health of the eye.

This made me look at other foods that can help our eye health and especially help to protect us from AMD. Studies now show that increasing the level of antioxidants can indeed help, and the best antioxidants which appear to do most to help eye health are in a class of compounds known as carotenoids.

Carotenoids include beta-carotene and its relative zeaxanthin. The lutein found in spinach is also in this class.

The carotenoids are found in highest quantities in dark green and orange yellow vegetables such as carrots and broccoli, as well of course as the spinach we have already mentioned.

Interestingly, another food which has shown to help reduce the risk of AMD is wine. It seems both red and white wine are effective, and as little as two to 12 glasses of wine a year can contribute to reducing the risk of AMD. This could be because wine contains flavonoids, which have an antioxidant action in the body.

Vitamin E and zinc are thought to also have a protective role against AMD; vitamin E is in vegetable oils, egg yolk, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds and zinc can be sourced in fish, meat, eggs and tofu. To get real benefit, it might be better to look at supplements of these vitamins but the instructions need to be read carefully as it is important not to overdose on vitamin supplements.

But it is not just the disease of AMD that can be helped by a good diet. Cataracts are another major problem that especially affects people as they grow older; they occur in one in seven people aged over 55 and in almost 50 per cent of people over 75.

Like AMD, cataract formation is thought to be related to free-radical damage and increasing the level of antioxidants you absorb appears to help reduce the risk of cataract development.

As with AMD, carotenoids can help reduce the risk of cataract formation, and so can two other antioxidant nutrients – vitamin C and vitamin E. A study published in an American journal said that the right levels of vitamin C can reduce cataract risk by 70 per cent if taken for ten years or more.

There is a lot of research going on at the moment on nutrients and eye problems, and there are also special supplements available specifically designed to help eye health. It may well be worth talking to your eye specialist to get the latest thoughts on what you can do to help protect your eyes as you grow older.

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