When your mother told you eating carrots would help you see, she might not have known why carrots, in particular, are associated with eye health. Recently, a study uncovered a potential reason why carrots really are good for your eyes and may have the power to prevent a common eye disease.
Warding Off Damage
Age-related macular degeneration is a common concern among the aging population. The condition affects the central part of the retina, called the macula, and can lead to a decrease in clarity of your central vision. Advanced forms of the disease may cause partial blindness.
AMD appears in one of two forms: wet or dry. Both are associated with aging, although the dry form is more common. Dry AMD is caused by a thinning of the macula. The wet form is the result of blood vessels leaking underneath the retina.
Signs of AMD can include:
• Gradual loss of vision
• Difficulty seeing in low light conditions
• The need for brighter light to read or work
• Loss of color intensity
• Distorted vision
These symptoms may appear in one or both eyes and increase in severity over time. Symptoms of wet AMD can manifest more quickly. Neither form has a definite underlying cause, but a combination of genetics, lifestyle factors and dietary patterns is suspected to play a role.
Studying the Carrot Conundrum
In light of the potential detriments of advanced AMD, more research into preventative measures can only be beneficial to those at risk. Anecdotes about carrots point to a need to delve more deeply into the effects of diet on the development of eye diseases, so a graduate student in nutrition epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health decided to get a team together and ask, “Are carrots beneficial for eye health?”
Joanne Wu and her colleagues reviewed health survey data from about 63,000 women and 39,000 men, all health professionals, and tracked how many of them wound up with a diagnosis of AMD. Data ranging from the mid 1980’s until 2010 showed about 2.5 percent of participants developed either the intermediate or advanced form of the disease during that time.
One difference between those who developed advanced AMD and those who didn’t was their levels of vegetable consumption, particularly those containing antioxidants known as carotenoids. Beta carotene is one such compound often associated with carrots, although it appears along with many other beneficial nutrients in a whole rainbow of fruits and vegetables.
Eating for Eye Health
Carotenoids are found most notably in bright red, orange and yellow vegetables, but dark leafy greens are also good sources. In Wu’s study, people who had the highest intakes of carotenoids, particularly lutein and zeaxanthin, had a 40 percent lower risk of advanced AMD than those consuming the lowest levels. High intake of beta cryptoxanthin, alpha carotene and beta carotene was associated with a 25 to 35 percent lower risk. Neither group of carotenoids was shown to have an effect on intermediate forms of AMD.
To pump up your carotenoid intake, try adding these foods to your daily meals:
• Colored bell peppers
• Sweet potatoes
• Greens such as kale, collards, and mustard greens
Some antioxidants are destroyed by cooking, but others become more available to the body when exposed to heat. Including both raw and lightly cooked vegetables as part of your diet ensures you get beneficial levels of all the antioxidants associated with healthier eyes.
Researchers suggest the link between carotenoid intake and better eyesight may be due to the way several of these compounds concentrate in the retina. Carotenes have antioxidant properties, meaning they protect against cellular damage from environmental and internal sources. This may also explain why smoking has often been associated with AMD. The chemicals found in cigarettes cause a great deal of damage to many parts of the body, and even a high antioxidant intake may not be enough to counteract it.
While a single scientific study can’t prove carrots beneficial for eye health, other mounting evidence shows a range of benefits from consuming a diet high in vegetables and fruits. Make these foods staples of your diet and adopt healthy lifestyle habits to reduce your risk of AMD and other age-related diseases.
Want to learn more about your eye health?
CorrectVision Laser Institute is one of Florida’s most advanced practices for vision impairments with extensive experience in LASIK. Our goal is to open your eyes to the world of great vision by offering unparalleled expertise and the most advanced technology available.
Contact us today for a consultation with one of our South Florida eye specialists, located in Hollywood, Weston and Pembroke Pines!