More than a million Americans are blind. The good news is that all four of the most common causes of vision loss may be prevented with a healthy plant-based diet—age-related macular degeneration, diabetes, glaucoma, and cataracts.
See my 2-min. video Preventing Macular Degeneration with Diet for a discussion of the relationship between vision loss and Harvard’s Alternative Healthy Eating Index (Calculate Your Healthy Eating Score offers an alternative to the alternative). Diabetes is not only a leading cause of blindness, but also of amputations and kidney failure. Thankfully diabetes can be prevented and even reversed.
Glaucoma is a deterioration of our optic nerve (the nerve that connects our eyes to our brain) and is second only to cataracts as the world’s leading cause of blindness. Surprisingly, we still don’t know what causes it, so there’s been a desperate search for environmental and dietary influences.
As I show in my 2-min. video Prevent Glaucoma and See 27 Miles Farther, the most protective dietary component—decreasing the odds of glaucoma by 69%!—was found to be the consumption of at least one serving of collard greens or kale per month. Just once a month or more. The silver and bronze medals for most protective food go to weekly carrot and peach consumption, respectively.
We think it may be the lutein and zeaxanthin, two yellow plant pigments that seem to know right where to go. When we eat them, they hone right into our retinas and appear to protect against degenerative eye disease. This is not a unique phenomenon. Lycopene is the red pigment in tomatoes found protective against prostate cancer. Guess where it goes when a man eats a tomato? Straight to the prostate. Beta carotene in foods may prevent ovarian cancer and happens to build up in one’s ovaries. Now where does our body apparently need the lutein and zeaxanthin? In our retinas to protect our eyesight, and that’s exactly where it accumulates in the body.
These phytonutrients not only protect, but also may improve our vision. Their peak light absorbance just so happens to be the wavelength of the color of our planet’s sky. According to a recent study, by filtering out that blue haze, “individuals with high macular pigment [lutein and zeaxanthin phytonutrients from greens]” standing atop a mountain on a clear day “may be able to distinguish distant mountain ridges up to 27 miles further than individuals with little or no pigment.”
Don’t eggs also have significant amounts of these critical eyesight-saving nutrients? That’s the egg industry scrambling the truth—see my 2-min. video Egg Industry Blind Spot.
Finally, what about the leading cause of blindness and vision loss, cataracts? That’s the topic of today’s NutritionFacts.org video pick (see above).
Michael Greger, M.D.
Image credit: fern0922 / Flickr