'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

What are the chances that your dad isn't your dad?

Apr 16, 2014

How confident are you that the man you call dad is really your biological father? If you believe some of the most commonly-quoted figures, you could be forgiven for not being very confident at all. But how ...

New technology that is revealing the science of chewing

Apr 15, 2014

CSIRO's 3D mastication modelling, demonstrated for the first time in Melbourne today, is starting to provide researchers with new understanding of how to reduce salt, sugar and fat in food products, as well ...

After skin cancer, removable model replaces real ear

Apr 11, 2014

(HealthDay)—During his 10-year struggle with basal cell carcinoma, Henry Fiorentini emerged minus his right ear, and minus the hearing that goes with it. The good news: Today, the 56-year-old IT programmer ...

Italy scraps ban on donor-assisted reproduction

Apr 09, 2014

Italy's Constitutional Court on Wednesday struck down a Catholic Church-backed ban against assisted reproduction with sperm or egg donors that has forced thousands of sterile couples to seek help abroad.

User comments