Macular Degeneration

Spinach and Carrots – Good for Your Eyes?

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

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Macular Degeneration

Does Your Diet Affect Macular Degeneration? Part II

Foods That May Slow Down the Disease

Last post (Read Part I) was about vitamins and their role as defined by the AREDS 1 study.  In short, a vitamin formulation containing antioxidants (vitamins C and E), beta-carotene and zinc have been proven to be effective in patients with intermediate or advanced macular degeneration.  This AREDS formulation reduces the chances of a patient with macular degeneration from developing the wet form of ARMD.  That’s all.  It doesn’t get you better.

Today, I would like to address the possible dietary changes that could either slow down the disease or, perhaps, improve the vision and disease.  The data from the AREDS 1 study was released almost a year ago.  This data was released to the scientific public, and, anyone with the right credentials may analyze the data collected from the over 4000 individuals included in the original study.  The data includes detailed specifics about every patient’s dietary habits upon entering the study.  Since the release of the data, last year, many reports have emerged that have correlated dietary habits with positive visual outcomes over the course of the disease.  Warning:  these are not true studies, but possible associations.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids and Fish

Eating foods high in omega 3 fatty acids is good for your heart and may be good for your eyes, too.  Many reports have linked omega 3 fatty acids to a reduction in the progression of geographic atrophy (a common severe form of dry macular degeneration).  There may also be a protective effect against the wet form of ARMD as well.  Deep sea, or cold water, fish are great sources of omega 3 fatty acids.  Examples included mackerel, salmon, herring, sardines and anchovies (with the pizza?).  Tuna also contains omega 3’s.

Omega 3’s are going to tested in AREDS 2 (more tomorrow).  Current recommendations included eating 1-2 servings per week.  There may be no advantage to eating more

Omega 3 Fatty Acids:  Nuts and Oils

Certain nuts such as walnuts, hazel and pecans contain these fatty acids.  Flax-seed oil is also a great source.


Lutein/zeaxanthin were found to be associated inversely with development of neovascular macular degeneration and atrophic macular degeneration.  Sources of lutein and zeaxanthin include eggs, kale, spinach, turnip greens, collard greens, romaine lettuce, broccoli, zucchini, corn,garden peas and Brussels sprouts.  It is likely that lutein and zeaxanthin will be proven to be beneficial.  This, too, will be answered by AREDS 2.

Read Part 1.

Next Post:  The AREDS 2 Study.  What will it answer?


Randall V. Wong, M.D.
Ophthalmologist, Retina Specialist

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