The joke is that rabbits, like Bugs Bunny, have great vision because they eat carrots, but is there any application to human eyesight in this cliché? Losing your sight is definitely not a good thing. Perhaps North American adults aged 60 or more expect to develop cataracts (clouded lens of the eye), but is it automatic? It certainly seems to be, judging by the numbers of acquaintances with cataracts now or removed in the past.
Cumulative damage to the proteins in the eye's lens from ultraviolet light and oxidants often result in cataracts that are large enough to interfere with vision. In many cases, cataracts can be removed through surgery and the lens replaced. This often restores some to all the lost vision.
Wearing UV sunglasses can help prevent eye damage, but there are nutrients that also help. Phytochemicals (chemicals made in plants) such as carotenoids proved helpful according to some studies. Carotenoids are yellow, orange, and red pigments synthesized by plants. The most common carotenoids in North American diets are alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, zeaxanthin, and lycopene.
The observation that lutein and zeaxanthin are the only carotenoids in the human eye's lens has created interest in the potential to eat more of them to prevent or slow the progression of cataracts; additional research is needed to determine whether these findings are related specifically to those phytochemicals or to other factors associated with diets high in carotenoid-rich foods.
Studies of particular population groups (with follow up to determine the outcome of disease) found that men and women with the highest intakes of foods rich in the caroteniods lutein and zeaxanthin, particularly in spinach, kale, and broccoli, were 18-50% less likely to need cataracts removed. Chopping, homogenizing, and cooking make vegetables give up more of the nutritional usefulness of carotenoids. Eating cooked/roasted/canned vegetables make the goodness of spinach, kale, broccoli, carrots and pumpkin more useable. The bioavailability of lycopene from tomatoes is substantially improved by heating tomatoes in oil. (Tomato soup or spaghetti sauce, anyone?)
Studies that showed cataracts were less prevalent in people with high dietary intakes and blood levels of carotenoids led to the inclusion of beta-carotene supplements in several large antioxidant trials. The results of those trials have been somewhat conflicting.
One study showed that beta-carotene supplements (20 mg/day) for more than six years did not affect the prevalence of cataracts or the frequency of cataract surgery in Finnish male smokers. In contrast, a 12-year study of U.S. male physicians found that beta-carotene supplements of 50 mg every other day decreased the risk of cataracts in smokers but not in nonsmokers. Should or shouldn't you use these supplements? Note: In some studies, use of beta-carotene supplements has been shown to increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers and former asbestos workers.
It's essential that each older adult, or their care-giver, not start taking carotenoid supplements without first discussing the possible benefits and risks with their doctor, to determine if they would gain protection from cataracts or harm in another way. This is an important discussion and should not be skipped.
Carrots in your diet, along with spinach, kale broccoli, tomatoes and pumpkin are still good anytime . . . just ask the nearest rabbit.
c. 2012 - Live2AgeWell.com
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