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Preventing Blindness With Diet

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).

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

Image credit: fern0922 / Flickr

Related:
Stomach Staples or Healthy Kitchen Staples?
Green Tea Brain Wave Alteration
Antioxidants: Plant vs. Animal Foods

Read more: Aging, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Health, Healthy Aging, Videos, , , , ,

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Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at NutritionFacts.org.

38 comments

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1:37PM PDT on Aug 16, 2012

thanks, but unbelievable. No doctor has told me that diet changes would stop my vision loss or would restore my vision. And all so far have said that it couldn't have been prevented. I trust those who are trained and have facts to back their claims.

3:53PM PDT on Jul 25, 2012

ty

3:53PM PDT on Jul 25, 2012

ty

3:53PM PDT on Jul 10, 2012

Thank you!

8:13AM PDT on Jun 12, 2012

THANKS) FOR INFO

1:19PM PDT on Jun 11, 2012

Thanks.

7:23AM PDT on Jun 11, 2012

very informative! thank you.

1:12AM PDT on Jun 11, 2012

Thanks.

9:46AM PDT on Jun 10, 2012

Heard that spinach is good in helping to prevent macular degeneration.

8:37AM PDT on Jun 10, 2012

This post is a lie. The first sentence says you can prevent blindness by eating a vegan diet. Sure, Gergen says plant-based instead of vegan, but same thing.

A. Even if you still eat some meat or dairy doesn't mean that you can't eat all of the fruits and vegetables that offer the vital nutrients that help ward off not just eye problems, but all health problems. We just have to eat them in volume and in variety.

B. Just because a person is eating a vegan/plant-based diet doesn't mean they are eating a healthy diet. There are plenty of vegan options that have too much sugar and fat, and those who aren't skipping entire food groups are more likely to have cravings that lead them to eat more or the bad vegan options like baked goods. You can be vegan and be obese or develop diabetes.

Gergen is not a practicing doctor. He's an animal advocate first and foremost.

Sure, eat more fruits and vegetables and with variety and you're sure to extend the health of your body's cells, especially if you buy or grow organic. But his claim that going vegan will avoid eye problems is a complete falsehood.

Get this liar off of the care2 site already.

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