The next time you dine, don’t forget to eat your vegetables. They may reduce your risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a serious disease that affects 30 million people worldwide and is the leading cause of blindness in people over 50.

This advice comes from Dr. Steven Pratt, ...The next time you dine, don’t forget to eat your vegetables. They may reduce your risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a serious disease that affects 30 million people worldwide and is the leading cause of blindness in people over 50.

This advice comes from Dr. Steven Pratt, senior staff ophthalmologist at Scripps Memorial Hospital and assistant clinical professor of ophthalmology at the University of California San Diego after reviewing the role of antioxidants, specifically lutein and zeaxanthin, in preventing AMD.

These two carotenoids – that are found abundantly in dark green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach – are believed to have protective effects against AMD like Vitamins C, E, and zinc although Pratt added that further clinical trials are needed to establish this relationship.

The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) Group earlier reported that high doses of the antioxidant Vitamins A (beta-carotene), C, E, and zinc reduced the risk of advanced AMD by up to 25 percent. No serious side effects were reported.

Unfortunately, the above trial began before there was sufficient evidence to suggest a role for lutein and zeaxanthin in preventing AMD so supplements containing these two carotenoids were not included in the test.

Still, Pratt believes that the relationship between these two carotenoids and AMD becomes clear when you consider the fact that the human macular pigment consists primarily of lutein and zeaxanthin. People over 60 with a low macular pigment density – and presumably low concentrations of lutein and zeaxanthin - have reduced visual sensitivity while those of the same age but with a high macular pigment density have visual sensitivity similar to younger people. Pratt said loss of visual sensitivity can be a precursor to many retinal diseases, including AMD.

Although its protective role is not fully understood, researchers said the macular pigment apparently filters blue light that is damaging to photo-receptors and the retina. Studies have shown that lutein and zeaxanthin absorb blue light.

Another hypothesis is that these carotenoids act as antioxidants and combat free radicals that damage the retina. This damage has likewise been reduced in animals given a diet rich in the antioxidant Vitamins A, C and E.

The first study to shed light on the relationship between dietary antioxidant intake and AMD protection comes from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). In that study, participants older than 45 years were divided into groups based on their dietary intake of fruits and vegetables. Researchers found that those who ate fruits and vegetables rich in Vitamin A at least once a day had significant protection from AMD.

However, the above study didn’t pinpoint specific nutrients responsible for that effect. That job was made by investigators from the Eye Disease Case Control Study who found that patients with high blood levels of carotenoids and antioxidant vitamins had the lowest incidence of AMD.

Until the final results are in, researchers say it pays to eat foods rich in Vitamins A, C, E and zinc. That may well be the safest and simplest way of preventing the disease.

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Author's Bio: 

Janet Martin is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and published author. Many of her insightful articles can be found at the premiere online news magazine http://www.thearticleinsiders.com.