'Eat your greens; it's good for your eyes': Investigating truth behind familiar parental battle cry

Investigating truth behind familiar parental battle cry

Parents have long tried to persuade children to eat their greens by promising it will give them better eyesight, but is there any truth to this age-old adage? This is the question an Irish researcher who has just received a funding boost from the European Research Council (ERC) is setting out to answer.

Vision tends to deteriorate as we get older but Dr. John Nolan, from Waterford Institute of Technology, will investigate if changes in diet can help reduce the numbers of people diagnosed with age-related (AMD) as they enter their twilight years. Approximately 15 million Europeans suffer from AMD and this figure is only set to rocket over the coming decade amid Europe's .

Set to receive a EUR 1.5 million Starting Grant for the next 5 years of research on the project he leads, "Enrichment of macular and its impact on vision and blindness" (CREST), Dr. Nolan aims to develop a targeted approach that could optimize the nutrition of the eye.

The hope is that this research will lead to improvements in for people who suffer from impaired vision. As well as helping AMD sufferers - more than half the blindness cases in the developed world are caused by AMD, and besides the physical consequences, there are also significant social and such as loneliness and depression - the findings from the project will also potentially even be useful for those who are considered to have 'normal' vision.

Dr. Nolan is Principal Investigator at the Waterford Institute of Technology's Macular Pigment Research Group whose mission is to study the role of eye nutrition for vision and prevention of blindness.

The problem largely stems from deterioration in the central part of the retina, called the macula. As we age, our eyes' cells accumulate damage from the effects of oxidising chemicals, such as , and from blue light. There is now growing evidence that a lack of macular pigment (MP) in this part of the eye is associated with more retinal damage from these sources, and a correspondingly increased risk of AMD.

Dr. Nolan explains: "The question we are asking is how to optimise this pigment at the back of the eye. Our approach is to optimize nutrition for the eyes, which we hope will protect the retina through the ageing process - and even produce improved 'super-vision' for those with normal eyesight."

The key seems to be chemicals called carotenoids, 60 of which are found in the typical Western diet. However, only three of them occur in MP in the retina: lutein (L), zeaxanthin (Z) and meso-zeaxanthin (meso-Z). And the concentrations of these pigments vary from individual to individual.

As well as contributing to retinal damage, blue light is also the part of the spectrum most subject to scattering - which causes glare. To combat this, the pigment absorbs . Dr. Nolan describes this process as effectively being 'sunscreen for the eye.'

"Our study will enrich MP through diet and supplements, and then measure the impact on improving vision. These pigments are also antioxidants - so increasing them could potentially have a double protective effect."

The ERC funding will also help Dr. Nolan measure any improvements in eyesight and combat limitations in today's methods of measuring vision. ERC funding has already helped Dr. Nolan's team assemble the advanced equipment needed for new tests. The standard tests use white backgrounds and black letters, which are not sensitive enough to measure improvements in young people's eyesight or in those with normal . The new tests Dr. Nolan will develop will go beyond this classic test format and assess the need for corrective lenses. They will look into the effects from colour and contrasts.

More information: Waterford Institute of Technology: www.wit.ie/
European Research Council (ERC): erc.europa.eu/

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Why Popeye only has eyes for spinach

Sep 25, 2006

Eating spinach could protect your eyes from the leading cause of blindness in western society, say experts at The University of Manchester.

Grapes may help prevent age-related blindness

Jan 12, 2012

Can eating grapes slow or help prevent the onset of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a debilitating condition affecting millions of elderly people worldwide? Results from a new study published in Free Radical Biology an ...

Recommended for you

Ebola scare boosts business for US company

4 hours ago

The Ebola scare has subsided in the United States, at least temporarily, but an Alabama manufacturer is still trying to catch up with a glut of orders for gear to protect against the disease.

Thai parliament votes to ban commercial surrogacy (Update)

12 hours ago

Thailand's parliament has voted to ban commercial surrogacy after outrage erupted over the unregulated industry following a series scandals including the case of an Australian couple accused of abandoning a baby with Down's ...

Doctor behind 'free radical' aging theory dies

Nov 25, 2014

Dr. Denham Harman, a renowned scientist who developed the most widely accepted theory on aging that's now used to study cancer, Alzheimer's disease and other illnesses, has died in Nebraska at age 98.

Mexican boy who had massive tumor recovering

Nov 25, 2014

An 11-year-old Mexican boy who had pieces of a massive tumor removed and who drew international attention after U.S. officials helped him get treatment in the southwestern U.S. state of New Mexico is still recovering after ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.