I am particularly interested in spinach and its role in promoting visual health. My mother spent the last 16 years of her life suffering from macular degeneration. While her overall health was excellent, the macular degeneration meant that she was unable to drive, watch TV or read – activities that many of us take for granted, but are sorely missed when eliminated from our lives.
Here’s what we know about age-related macular degeneration, or AMD.
The macula of the eye is responsible for central vision – the type we need for close work like writing and sewing as well as distinguishing distant objects and color. Unfortunately, as many as 20% of all 65 year olds show at least some early evidence of age-related macular changes. By age 90, about 60% of Caucasians will be affected by AMD and close to 100% of centenarians reportedly have this leading cause of age-related vision loss. Worse yet, there is no effective treatment for AMD.
The good news is that nutrition can play an important role in preventing AMD.
Among the carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin are most strongly associated with a decreased risk for AMD. Spinach and its sidekick green leafies — arugula, bok choy, collards, kale, mustard greens, orange bell peppers, romaine lettuce, seaweed, Swiss chard, turnip greens — are all important players in preventing macular degeneration because of their rich supply of the carotenoids lutein/zeaxanthin. Coupled with dietary marine-based omega-3 fatty acids, they can offer a powerful reduction of our risk for AMD.
It’s interesting that all of the lutein and a significant percentage of the zeaxanthin found in the macular come from the diet, thus reinforcing the prescription to eat the best sources of lutein – spinach and kale – regularly. For those who just can’t do green leafies or fish, the DHA eggs found in virtually every market supply very bioavailable amounts of lutein, zeaxanthin and DHA.