Research Finds These 2 Nutrients Are Most Important for Your Eyesight
If your mother wouldn’t let you leave the dinner table until you finished your greens, you might want to thank her for it now. Recent studies have shown that antioxidants commonly found in kale, brussels sprouts, spinach, and peppers can protect the eyes from the free radical damage known to compromise eyesight. Lutein and zeaxanthin – nutrients common in green, leafy vegetables as well as other dietary items, such as egg yolks – are two of the daily supplements the National Eye Institute recommends for patients diagnosed with age-related macular-degeneration, a common cause of vision loss among people over age 50.
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Lutein and zeaxanthin are members of the carotenoid family of antioxidants, however these two play very special roles. When consumed, they accumulate in the retina, where they are believed to serve as antioxidants, protecting eye cells from oxidation. Some scientists believe lutein provides similar protection to brain cells.
Studies have supported that an inverse association exists between levels of lutein and zeaxanthin in eye tissues and age related degenerative diseases, such as macular degeneration (AMD).
In 2001, the National Institute of Health’s National Eye Institute conducted the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), which established that a daily high-dose cocktail of vitamins C, E, beta-carotene, as well as the minerals zinc and copper, is beneficial in slowing down the progression in AMD patients. Those who took the AREDS formulation during the five-year trial were 25 to 30 percent less likely to develop advanced AMD, compared with participants who took a placebo.
In 2006, NIH launched a second study to examine if the current AREDS formulation could be improved, and to eliminate side effects some patients were experiencing, such as stomach upset and heightened risk of lung cancer in smokers. As part of this study, one group was given AREDS with added lutein and zeaxanthin.
Results supported that participants who had initially had low dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin experienced benefits from supplementation; this group was about 25 percent less likely to develop advanced AMD, as compared to participants with similar dietary intake who did not take lutein and zeaxanthin.
While additional research is needed to confirm the role of AREDS, scientists believe it is a safe and effective step toward preventing vision loss in individuals diagnosed with AMD. If you are over 60, talk to your eye care professional about routine vision screenings, and whether taking AREDS supplements is for you.
Debbie Swanson is a freelance writer, published in numerous national and local outlets. An avid vegetarian, animal lover and reader, she loves learning about healthy eating and finding natural cures for everyday ailments.