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Nutrition Column

Eating carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables along with zinc helps prevent two common age-related, sight-robbing disorders

After your laser eye-surgery, eating more carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables will help prevent their recurrence. Eating healthy will not only protect your eyes, but the rest of your body too. Aging is often tough on your eyes. And youíre not alone. By age 75 more than one out of four people show signs of damage to the retina. Degeneration of the macula, an area of the retina in the back of the eye, is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the U.S. Cataracts blur the vision of 20% of people in their 60ís, more than 40% of people in their 70ís, and nearly 70% of those in their 80ís.

Age is by far the greatest risk factor in bringing about changes that can lead to two common sight-robbing disorders, cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). While a cataract is a cloudy area in part or all of the eye lens, macular degeneration involves damage to the macula. Emerging evidence suggests that risk of certain eye changes associated with aging may be reduced by dietary components.

Recent reports on the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), launched by the Institutes of Healthís National Eye Institute gave a lot of attention to the benefits of high-dose antioxidant vitamins and zinc supplements of eye health. Before starting on these, or any high-dose,supplements consult first with your physician. Donít arbitrarily start taking antioxidants or zinc supplements. Antioxidants can interfere with statin drugs like Lipitor and Zocor, beta-carotene could raise the risk of lung cancer in smokers, and zinc may raise the risk of prostate cancer, lower HLD (ďgoodĒ)-cholesterol, and impair immunity. But if your vision is in danger, the benefits to your eyes may outweigh those potential risks. Your doctor can monitor and follow your progress for any negative side effects.

If you have either intermediate or advanced AMD, talk with your doctor about taking the high-dose daily supplements in AREDS: vitamin C (500 mg), vitamin E (400 IU), beta-carotene (15 mg, or 25,000 IU), zinc (80 mg), and copper (2 mg). Make sure you take zinc oxide, because zinc gluconate could lead to higher blood levels of zinc. The researchers added the copper because high doses of zinc interfere with copper absorption. While the high-dose formulations used in AREDS benefited AMD, they conferred no significant effect on the progression or development of age-related cataracts. For cataracts, the yellow-colored carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin proved most beneficial. The National Eye Institute is planning a large trial to determine the proper dose of carotenoids, but from the research is looks to probably be between six and 15 mg a day.

And remember, that while data on the benefits of supplements is still preliminary, a strong body of evidence points to foods that can be consumed to reduce the risk of both cataracts and AMD. In addition, lutein is very expensive so most supplements have incredibly low amounts compared to what you can get in your diet. Itís easier to get six milligrams with vegetables than with most supplements [six milligrams is 24 times more than the 250 micrograms (0.25 mg) you get in a multivitamin like Centrum Silver].Below is a list of foods with relatively high amounts of carotenoids. The table list the amount of lutein + zeaxanthin in milligrams in Ĺ cup of vegetable (unless otherwise noted).

To lower your risk of cataracts and/or macular degeneration follow some (or all)of the following recommendations: donít smoke, eat leafy green vegetables like spinach and broccoli at least twice a week, eat fish at least once a week, lose excess weight, snack on fruits and vegetables and nuts (in moderation) rather than cakes, cookies, chips, and other processed foods, talk with your doctor about taking antioxidants or zinc, and exercise.

Getting your five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables has proven benefits for obtaining adequate levels of eye-protecting nutrients and at reducing your risk of cataracts and AMD. Eating healthy improves your odds - in many ways!

Written by Dr. Sternlicht for on 09.05.05