Carrots Do Help Aging Eyes, Study Shows
Leafy greens, brightly colored veggies such as orange peppers also may stave off macular degeneration
By Randy Dotinga
THURSDAY, Oct. 8, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Your parents may have told you, "Eat your carrots, they're good for your eyes," and a new study suggests they were on to something.
Pigments called carotenoids -- which give red or orange hues to carrots, sweet potatoes and orange peppers, or deep greens to produce like spinach, broccoli and kale -- may help ward off the age-linked vision ailment known as macular degeneration, researchers said.
While the study can't prove cause-and-effect, one vision care expert wasn't surprised by the findings.
"I tell my patients that fruit and vegetable consumption are very important for eye health -- this study validates that notion," said Dr. Paul Bernstein, a professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is one of the most common causes of vision loss, especially in the elderly. It affects the macula, the center part of the retina, and can lead to declines in sharp central vision and even blindness, experts say.
Scientists have already linked a variety of factors to the condition including genetics, smoking and nutrition, said Bernstein, who was not involved in the new study. However, treatment for AMD may be limited depending on the type of macular degeneration that a person develops, he said.
Prior research has produced mixed findings about links between carotenoids and macular degeneration, the researchers said. So, a team led by Joanne (Juan) Wu, a graduate student in nutrition epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, sought to better understand any connection.
In the new study, Wu's team looked at data from health surveys that tracked people aged 50 and older -- more than 63,000 women and almost 39,000 men -- from 1984 or 1986 until 2010. Participants were all nurses and other health professionals.
Overall, about 2.5 percent of study participants developed either intermediate or advanced forms of the eye condition during the years of the study.
Wu's team found that people who consumed the very highest levels of carotenoids known as lutein and zeaxanthin had a 40 percent lower risk of the advanced form of AMD compared to those who ate the very least.