"High intake of fruits and vegetables may have a modest protective effect" against cataracts, they write. The research team included William Christen of Harvard Medical School and Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Cataracts cause vision problems. They're cloudy, painless areas of the eye's lens that block the passage of light to the retina, the nerve layer at the back of they eye.
Cataracts can be surgically removed and are more common in older people. Native Americans and blacks are at higher risk for developing cataracts. So are people with a family history of cataracts.
Christen and colleagues followed more than 35,000 female health professionals for a decade. Back in 1993, the women filled out questionnaires covering the foods they'd eaten in the previous year. None had cataracts at that time.
Average daily intake was six servings of fruits and vegetables (two of fruit and four of veggies).
Over 10 years, the group had a total of 2,067 cataract cases. The women who ate the most fruits and vegetables were 10% to 15% less likely to be in that group. The "modest" advantage wasn't changed by smoking status or other cataract risk factors, says the study.
Cataracts were reported by the women, with medical confirmation in more than 91% of cases.
Load Up on Produce
The study didn't directly test the cataract-fighting powers of fruits and vegetables. It merely looked to see who developed the condition during the follow-up period. More studies should be done, say the researchers.
They note that self-reported food intake isn't always perfect. The women who ate a lot of produce also tended to be healthier in other ways (such as getting more exercise and having eye exams). Changes in eating and other lifestyle habits over the years weren't noted.
Meanwhile, there's good reason to eat more fruits and vegetables. "The possible beneficial effects of fruit and vegetables on the risk of many chronic diseases, including cataract, have a strong biological basis and warrant the continued recommendation to increase total intakes of fruits and vegetables," says the study.