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: Dallas hospital confirms first Ebola case in US

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Dallas hospital confirms first Ebola case in US

2 hours ago

A patient at a Dallas hospital has tested positive for Ebola, the first case of the disease to be diagnosed in the United States, federal health officials announced Tuesday.

First case of Ebola diagnosed in US

3 hours ago

The United States has diagnosed its first case of the deadly Ebola virus in a man who became infected in Liberia and traveled to Texas, US health officials said Tuesday.

Study finds acupuncture does not improve chronic knee pain

4 hours ago

Among patients older than 50 years with moderate to severe chronic knee pain, neither laser nor needle acupuncture provided greater benefit on pain or function compared to sham laser acupuncture, according to a study in the ...

Ebola outbreak nears end in Nigeria

4 hours ago

The Ebola outbreak in Nigeria is almost over, US health officials said Tuesday, in a rare sign of authorities turning the tide on the highly contagious disease that has killed more than 3,000 in West Africa.

User comments : 0