Dietary Antioxidants May Help Fight Macular Degeneration

EATING CARROTS may actually be good for your eyes-along with other foods high in beta carotene plus foods rich in vitamins C and E. Those dietary antioxidants and zinc may help delay age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness for those age 55 and older, according to a new Dutch study.

Researchers at the Erasmus Medical Center followed more than 4,000 people ages 55 and up for an average of eight years, during which about 13% developed AMD. Based on subjects' responses to a food-frequency questionnaire, those who consumed above-average amounts of dietary beta carotene, zinc and vitamins C and E were 35% less likely to be diagnosed with the disease.

AMD has previously been linked to oxidative stress, which antioxidants are thought to combat. Although earlier studies have sometimes been conflicting or confusing, some have shown benefits against AMD from antioxidants either in the diet or from supplements. In 2001, a random, placebo-controlled study sponsored by the National Eye Institute, the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), showed that high levels of beta carotene, zinc and vitamin C and E supplements reduced by 25% the five-year progression of patients diagnosed with early Aug.

This latest study focused strictly on dietary sources, and actually factored out participants who took supplements. High levels of vitamin E have been linked to possible health concerns (see the January 2005 Healthletter), but the dietary vitamin E intake in the Dutch study was well below those levels.

Besides carrots, good dietary sources of beta carotene include sweet potatoes and dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits as well as many vegetables such as sweet peppers, and vitamin E is found in vegetable oils, nuts, green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals. Sources of zinc include red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, certain seafood, whole grains, fortified cereals and dairy products.

TO LEARN MORE: Journal of the American Medical Association, Dec. 28, 2005. Free abstract at . National Eye Institute .