Why Popeye only has eyes for spinach

Sep 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."

Source: University of Manchester

Explore further: Global impact of the Ebola outbreak

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Global impact of the Ebola outbreak

4 minutes ago

The Ebola virus has been spreading in West Africa since March, but the current outbreak over the past few weeks has reached new heights and elevated the crisis. More than 650 people have died, and in recent days it was learned ...

S.Korea detects second foot-and-mouth case

2 hours ago

South Korea on Monday reported its second case of foot-and-mouth disease in less than a week, triggering fearful memories of a devastating 2011 outbreak that forced the culling of millions of livestock.

Ebola kills Liberian doctor, 2 Americans infected

2 hours ago

(AP)—One of Liberia's most high-profile doctors has died of Ebola, officials said Sunday, and an American physician was being treated for the deadly virus, highlighting the risks facing health workers trying ...

Hepatitis C virus genotype 1 is most prevalent worldwide

3 hours ago

In one of the largest prevalence studies to date, researchers from the U.K. provide national, regional, and global genotype prevalence estimates for the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Findings published in Hepatology, a journa ...

1 in 3000 blood donors in England infected with hepatitis E

3 hours ago

The first systematic analysis of hepatitis E virus (HEV) transmission by blood components indicates that about 1 in 3000 donors in England have HEV in their plasma. The findings, published in The Lancet, suggest that around ...

Biologic treatments for RA carry similar infection risk

3 hours ago

(HealthDay)—The risk of hospitalized bacterial infections in older rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients is similar for rituximab or abatacept compared to etanercept, although it is higher for infliximab, ...

User comments : 0