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Eat for your eyes say Aston academics

28 January 2003

Eat for your eyes say Aston academics

RESEARCHERS at Aston University in Birmingham are conducting a new study that examines how nutritional supplements can prevent or slow down the onset of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD).

ARMD is the leading cause of visual impairment and blindness in the Western world. The macular is the name given to the central part of the retina that gives us the most detailed vision. It is very important for tasks such as reading, driving, recognising faces and watching television.

ARMD affects over half a million people in the UK and can result in a permanent loss of central vision. For the most common form of the disease there is no medical treatment. Risk factors for ARMD include age, a low-antioxidant high-fat diet, sunlight exposure, smoking and family history.

The disease affects the retina, which contains the light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye. Damage is caused to these cells by the production of highly reactive oxygen molecules called free radicals. These are produced normally during the maintenance and repair of the retina and also by exposure to short wavelength light.

In healthy eyes the free radicals are destroyed by antioxidants, which may include nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids and zinc. A combination of these nutrients has been shown to be modestly effective in slowing the progression of ARMD in some patients when taken in tablet form.

The role of a specific nutrient, called lutein, is now being investigated as a possible protector against the condition. Lutein is believed to protect the macular in two ways. Firstly, it acts as an antioxidant and can directly destroy free radicals. Secondly, it has a protective role as macular pigment, as it absorbs short wavelength light, which is most damaging to the eye.

Lutein is not formed in the body and can only be obtained from dietary sources. Foods rich in lutein include spinach, broccoli, kale, corn, green peas, lettuce and collard greens. The recommended daily intake of lutein is generally thought to be 6 milligrams.

Hannah Bartlett, a researcher at Aston University, offers the following advice to people: "To reduce the risk of developing ARMD it is best to avoid excessive sunlight exposure, eat a diet rich in green leafy vegetables and fruit and low in saturated fat, and avoid smoking. It is also important to have regular eye examinations to screen for ARMD. It can be difficult to maintain such a diet, but there are nutritional supplements available in tablet form that contain lutein and vitamins. There is some research that suggests taking these supplements on a daily basis may prevent or slow down the progression of ARMD.

"At Aston we are conducting a study to try and determine the role of nutritional supplements in the prevention or slowing down of progression of ARMD. If you have been told that you have the condition by your optometrist, doctor or consultant, you may be interested in taking part. If so, please contact us for an information pack."

Anyone interested should contact Hannah on 0121 359 8487 or email: bartlehe@aston.ac.uk

ENDS

For further information please call 0121 204 4549 or email: b.a.l.coombes@aston.ac.uk

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