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Greens may reduce vision loss from macular degeneration


ATLANTA, Feb. 25 /PRNewswire/ - Dietary modification with a lutein-rich food can reverse the damaging effects of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), the leading cause of blindness in people over age 65 in the United States, according to a report presented today by Stuart Richer, O.D. at the Southern Council of Optometrists 1999 annual meeting. Until this point, research only indicated that diet plays an important role in reducing disease risk.

"Patients demonstrated positive effects in visual function in one or both eyes with the simple addition of lutein-rich foods," reported Richer, chief of the Optometry Section, DVA Medical Center, North Chicago, IL. "This research supports the hypothesis that lutein is associated with building macular pigment, a key indicator of ARMD risk and pathology." Richer supplemented the diets of 15 atrophic (dry) ARMD patients with an additional portion of five ounces of saut˘ed spinach four to seven times per week. Study subjects were given a battery of tests to establish baseline measurements of contrast sensitivity, low-luminance, low-contrast visual acuity and glare recovery in each eye.

Subsequent measurements were made at intervals ranging from two months to 12 months. Richer observed improvements in visual function in as little as three months. Often striking improvements in vision were detected through follow-up tests, even when the patient did not report subjective vision changes. Partial or complete resolution of metamorphopsia (distorted vision) and scotomas (blind spots) was reported in seven of eight applicable cases.

Dietary treatment of ARMD should receive more attention, due to its simplicity, low cost and potential application in a broad range of ARMD cases, according to Richer. "There is a preoccupation by clinicians and researchers with exudative (wet) ARMD and a continuing commercial and professional interest in higher-technology, expensive treatment approaches," said Richer. "Such therapies are applicable to a small percentage of ARMD patients and the disease must be detected early for treatment to be effective." Prevent Blindness America, the nation's leading eye health organization, estimates 13 million people in the U.S. have symptoms of ARMD, and the disease causes visual impairment in 1.2 million. Richer said this is particularly alarming as the population over the age of 65 is projected to double by the year 2050.

Lutein and zeaxanthin, related carotenoids found in leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale, are concentrated in retinal macular pigment and accumulation is dependent on dietary intake. Macular pigment may filter blue light that damages photoreceptors and the retinal pigment epithelium. In addition, carotenoids may limit oxidant stress resulting from metabolism and light, acting as antioxidants. "There is hope for people who suffer from ARMD as well as those at risk for the disease. This disease is preventable, and now may even be treatable with the right dietary modifications or intake of lutein supplements," said Richer.


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