Dietary Prevention of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Author: NutritionFacts.org

"Dietary Prevention of Age-Related Macular Degeneration" Anyone who has ever got a sunburn knows how damaging the UV rays in sunlight can be. Imagine what those rays are doing to the back of our eyeballs, our retinas? The eye's designed to take sunlight and focus it like a magnifying glass into the back of our eyes. Thankfully we have a layer of cells in our eye called the retinal pigment epithelium that supports and protects our delicate retinal eyesight machinery. This layer builds up yellow plant pigments from our diet, like zeaxantin, which absorbs blue light and protects the retina from photo-oxidative damage.

The yellowing of our corneas when we get cataracts may actually be our bodies' defense mechanism to protect our retinas. In fact when we go and surgically remove those cataracts, our risk of blindness from macular degeneration shoots up since we've removed that protection. Instead of trading one type of vision loss for another, instead of pigmenting the front of our eye with cataracts, better to pigment the back of eyes with diet.

The pigment in the back of our eye is entirely of dietary origin, thus suggesting that the most common cause of going blind in the Western world could be delayed or even averted with appropriate dietary modification. Where in our diet do we get it? Well, the egg industry brags that eggs are a good source, but have an egg nearly day, six eggs a week for three months, and the pigmentation in our eyes barely moves. And these were the high lutein, free range, certified organic eggs, not purchased at the supermarket, but from a local farm. Instead of getting phytonutrients from the egg that came from the chicken that came from the corn and blades of grass you pecked on, what about getting it from the source: a cup of corn and a half cup of spinach a day for three months? A dramatic boost in protective eye pigment. Just to compare to the eggs, here's the best that eggs can do. But if you cut out the middle hen and get these nutrients from plants directly, you can get up to here. What's also so neat about this study is that it went back and measured the levels three months after the study stopped, and the levels were still way up here. So once we build our macular pigment up with a healthy diet, our eyeballs really try to hold on to it.

So even if we go on vacation and end up eating more iceberg lettuce than spinach, our eyes will hold out until we get back. Yes, eyes can increase zeaxantin levels in the blood, but they also raise bad cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease, therefore an egg yolk based dietary strategy to increase plasma zeaxantin cannot be recommended. An alternative, you know, a cholesterol-free food source is desirable, like goji berries for example, which have up to 60 times more zeaxantin than eggs. A modest dose markedly increases levels in our body. An inexpensive, effective, safe, whole foods strategy to increase the zeaxantin in our blood stream. But we don't need it in our blood. We need it in our eyes.

Dietary Prevention of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

So how about a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial? To preserve eyesight in the elderly in traditional Chinese medicine, people are often prescribed 40 to 100 goji berries a day. But here they just used 15 berries a day for three months. But still found it could protect against loss of pigment and prevent the buildup of what's called soft drusen, which is just debris that builds up in the back of our eye, both of which are associated with age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of legal blindness in older men and women, affecting more than 10 million Americans. Now note they gave the berries with milk in this study, so the butterfat could increase the absorption of the carotenoid pigments. A healthier way to get the same effect would be to just eat goji berries with nuts or seeds, in other words, Goji trail mix.

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