Protect Your Eyes with Healthy Foods
January 26, 2006—Older people can reduce their risk of macular degeneration by eating foods rich in beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, and zinc, reports the Journal of the American Medical Association (2005;294:3101–7).
Macular degeneration is a disease caused by progressive deterioration of the central part of the retina (the surface of the back of the eye) known as the macula. It usually occurs in elderly people and causes vision changes ranging from difficulty reading to total blindness. Although its cause is poorly understood, oxidative damage is believed to play an important role. A number of studies have found that antioxidant supplements can prevent and slow the progression of macular degeneration. In one controlled study, a high-potency antioxidant supplement containing beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, and zinc reduced the risk of progression by 25% in people with macular degeneration during a five-year period. The role of dietary antioxidants in preventing the onset or progression of macular degeneration has not been previously studied.
The current study looked at the diet and changes in macular health of 4,170 people over a 14-year period. All were at least 55 years old and did not have macular degeneration in either eye upon entering the study. They all underwent eye examinations at the outset and at three follow-up exams. In addition, dietary intake of specific nutrients was assessed using a questionnaire, a two-week food diary, and an in-person interview.
The amounts of vitamin E and zinc in the diet were inversely related to the risk of developing macular degeneration; in other words, people who ate more of these nutrients had less risk of macular degeneration. Furthermore, people whose intake of all four nutrients (beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, and zinc) was higher than the middle of the range were 35% less likely to develop macular degeneration than those whose intake of any one of these nutrients was lower than the middle of the range.
These results add to the evidence that antioxidants prevent macular degeneration and further show that the levels of antioxidant nutrients found in foods can offer significant protection. All healthcare providers should encourage people to eat foods rich in beta-carotene and vitamin C (fruits and vegetables), vitamin E (nuts, seeds, whole grains, and avocados), and zinc (fish, poultry, meat, nuts, and seeds) to prevent macular degeneration.
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Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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