There is a lot of confusing information regarding what you should eat for the health of your eyes. There is still a lot of confusion about proven supplements that may affect the rate of progression of macular degeneration.
Previous posts included information about the results of AREDS 1, Omega 3 Fatty Acids and their ability to slow down ARMD and the prospects for AREDS 2. Remember that AREDS stands for Age Related Eye Disease Study. The AREDS 1 study has been published and the AREDS 2 is presently underway.
What about Spinach? There are two potential advantages to eating spinach. Spinach is a rich source of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant (protects cells against the damaging effects of oxygen at the microscopic cellular level). It may be beneficial in slowing down macular degeneration, but we don’t yet know. This is specifically being addressed by AREDS 2. In AREDS 1, beta-carotene was linked to a beneficial effect in macular degeneration patients, but it also increased the rate of lung cancer in smokers taking the supplement. AREDS 2 will directly study whether beta-carotene is even needed.
Spinach also is a rich source of macular xanthophylls (pigment related compounds). Two of these xanthophylls are lutein and zeaxanthin. Lutein has become very famous/popular for the treatment of macular degeneration. Many “eye vitamins” tout the inclusion of lutein. Lutein has yet to be absolutely proven to be effective against macular degeneration. This question, too, will be answered in the upcoming AREDS 2 study.
And now, Carrots. Carrots are a great source of vitamin A. Certain meats are also great sources. Vitamin A is needed in the retina to help with the chemical reaction that allows us to see light. Vitamin A leads to the function of rhodopsin, a protein/enzyme that allows us to see in the dark. Vitamin A deficiency can lead to decreased rhodopsin and night blindness. (Vitamin A is also vital to the cornea and mucous membranes.) Vitamin A deficiency is very rare/non-existent in the United States.
Carrots, like spinach, are also a great source of beta-carotene. For the same reasons listed above (under the spinach heading), we may need to eat more carrots, not for the vitamin A, but for the beta-carotene.
Other sources of beta-carotene included; carrots, pumpkin and sweet potatoes, as well as, cabbage, kale, spinach, beet greens and collard greens.
What does this mean? There are advantages to spinach and carrots; good sources of beta-carotene that may be proven to retard or improve macular degeneration. At present, no additional supplements, diet or vitamins, have been proven to improve vision or eye health.
Randall V. Wong, M.D.
Ophthalmologist, Retina Specialist