Why Popeye only has eyes for spinach

September 25, 2006

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

With the aid of a new eye instrument, they have launched a study to see if the vegetable that endows Popeye with his super-human strength could also explain why the 77-year-old sailor has no need for spectacles!

Spinach and some other vegetables like sweetcorn, kale and broccoli are rich in a chemical called lutein, which, together with another carotenoid, zeaxanthin, form an oily, yellow substance at a central point of the retina known as the macula.

This yellow oil, called macular pigment, is thought to protect the macula from age-related macular degeneration or AMD, a disease that studies in the UK have shown to affect up to 12% of men and 29% of women over the age of 75.

"The macula is a small area of the retina responsible for seeing detail and colour in our central field of vision," said Dr Ian Murray, who is leading the research in Manchester's Faculty of Life Sciences.

"Our work has already found strong evidence to suggest that macular pigment provides some protection against AMD but we want to discover whether eating vegetables rich in these chemicals will have a direct impact on the disease.

"Since macular pigment is wholly derived from our diet we would expect that eating foods containing high levels of these compounds increases macular pigment and so helps slow the degenerative process. This latest study on volunteers with early-stage AMD will test that idea."

Scientists do not yet understand why some people are susceptible to age-related macular degeneration but warn the incidence is likely to rise as the population ages.

In collaboration with Tinsley Ophthalmic Instruments, Dr Murray's lab has developed a lightweight instrument that can measure the levels of lutein and zeaxanthin and provide an indication as to whether low levels of macular pigment may be linked with premature visual impairment.

"If the instrument demonstrates that the patient has low levels of macular pigment then they can be advised to take a lutein or zeaxanthin supplement and encouraged to eat vegetables high in these carotenoids.

"AMD is a devastating disease where sufferers slowly lose central vision making reading and most day-to-day activities virtually impossible. The main risk factors for the disease are age and heritance but it is also linked to controllable factors such as poor diet, smoking and obesity.

"Having their macular pigment measured and learning about the health of their eyes might be the first step to a change in lifestyle for many people."
-end-
Notes for editors:

  1. The AMD instrument has been taken up by an American company which is currently using it to test patients' levels of macular pigment and advise on the use of food supplements.

  2. The researchers are keen to hear from anyone between 55 and 80 years old who is interested in having their macular pigment measured. Please contact Sue Ritchie on 0161 200 3862 or on email at Simritchie@aol.com

  3. For further information about AMD see www.armd.org.uk


University of Manchester

Related Vegetables Articles from Brightsurf:

One third of UK fruit and vegetables are imported from climate-vulnerable countries
One third of UK fruit and vegetables are imported from climate-vulnerable countries - and this is on the rise.

Eating your vegetables is easier said than done
The landmark EAT-Lancet report on food in the Anthropocene sets ambitious targets.

Research shows that the combined production of fish and vegetables can be profitable
When it comes to future food production, the combined farming of fish and vegetables through aquaponics is currently a hotly debated topic.

Sensitivity to bitter tastes may be why some people eat fewer vegetables
A gene that makes some compounds taste bitter may make it harder for some people to add heart-healthy vegetables to their diet.

Flowering mechanism in Brassica rapa leafy vegetables illuminated
Post graduate students in Kobe University's Graduate School of Agricultural Science have revealed the role of genes in controlling flowering time in the Brassica rapa family.

Offering children a variety of vegetables increases acceptance
Although food preferences are largely learned, dislike is the main reason parents stop offering or serving their children foods like vegetables.

Cooking vegetables: healthier with extra virgin olive oil
Cooking vegetables in the sofrito (sauté) with extra virgin olive oil favours the absorption and release of bioactive compounds of its traditional ingredients (garlic, onion and tomato), according to the study published in the journal Molecules about the role of gastronomy in the health-improving effects of the Mediterranean Diet.

Millions of cardiovascular deaths attributed to not eating enough fruits and vegetables
Preliminary findings from a new study reveal that inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption may account for millions of deaths from heart disease and strokes each year.

Tuck into colourful fruits and vegetables and see the light
A $5.7 billion global medical bill to restore sight for the estimated 45 million people with cataracts could be slashed in half by a diet rich in colourful fruits and vegetables, according to an international study.

Canadians' consumption of fruit and vegetables drops 13 per cent in 11 years
Two surveys taken 11 years apart show a 13-per-cent decrease in the amount of fruit and vegetables being consumed by Canadians, new University of British Columbia research has found.

Read More: Vegetables News and Vegetables Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.