A plentiful list of potential health benefits accompanies fruit and vegetable consumption.
These advantages include improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and reduced chances of having a stroke and developing heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer.
Might fruits and vegetables protect aging eyes, too?
THIS STUDY analyzed data on 102,046 people who, at the start of the study, were age 50 or older and did not have cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer or age-related macular degeneration, or AMD. In about a 25-year span, 2,479 of them developed AMD, most in their mid-70s; 1,118 of the cases were considered advanced. In AMD, the central part of the retina, called the macula, deteriorates, causing severe vision loss. Those who ate the most vegetables and fruits high in carotenoids — the yellow, red, orange and dark green pigments found in these foods — were the least likely to develop advanced AMD.
Regular high consumption of foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin — five or more one-cup servings a week of spinach, for instance — lowered risk by 41 percent compared with little or no consumption. Carrots, the most commonly consumed food high in beta- or alpha-carotene, yielded a 36 percent risk reduction for five or more half-cup servings a week.
People who ate five or more oranges weekly lowered risk for developing advanced AMD by 27 percent compared with those who almost never ate an orange. And two or more half-cup servings a week of tomato sauce, high in lycopene, lowered risk by 40 percent vs. non-consumers. No link was found between carotenoid consumption and intermediate AMD, suggesting that high intake of carotenoids may slow worsening of AMD once it develops.
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Older people. Although it can strike at any age, AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in people 60 and older, currently affecting more than 2 million older Americans, a number that is expected to more than double in the next 15 years as the population ages. The disease causes cell death in the macula, the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail needed for reading and driving. There is no cure for macular degeneration; current treatments cannot restore vision, only slow progression of the disease.
CAVEATS The study did not determine an optimal amount of carotenoid consumption to achieve AMD-related benefits. Data on food consumption came from the participants’ responses on periodic questionnaires.
FIND THIS STUDY: Oct. 8 online issue of JAMA Ophthalmology (archopht.jamanetwork.com/journal.aspx); click “Online First”)
LEARN MORE ABOUT macular degeneration at nei.nih.gov/health.
Research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals.