Fruit may help prevent vision loss in older people

06/10/04

CHICAGO Eating fruit may help protect against the development of age-related maculopathy (ARM), an eye disease that can cause blindness, according to an article in the June issue of The Archives of Ophthalmology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

According to information in the article, ARM is the leading cause of vision loss among people 65 and older. Because there are no effective treatments for ARM, prevention of this eye disease is important. Antioxidant vitamin and mineral supplementation has been found to help protect against ARM. In a recent study, supplementation with high-doses of vitamins C and E, beta carotene and zinc delayed the progression of ARM.

Eunyoung Cho, Sc.D., of Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, and colleagues examined the effect of antioxidant vitamins and carotenoids (compounds responsible for the red, yellow and orange pigments found in some fruits and vegetables) as well as fruits and vegetables on the development of ARM among 77,562 women and 40,866 men. The women were part of the Nurses' Health Study, and the men were participants in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Participants were at least 50 years old at the beginning of the study with no diagnosis of ARM. Women were followed for up to 18 years, and men were followed for up to 12 years.

Women completed food consumption questionnaires up to five times over the follow-up period (in 1980, 1984, 1986, 1990 and 1994), and men answered similar questionnaires up to three times over the follow-up period (in 1986, 1990, and 1994). Participants also reported their vitamin and supplement use once every two years.

Over the follow-up period, the researchers documented a total of 464 (329 women and 135 men) new cases of early stage ARM, and 316 (217 women and 99 men) cases of neovascular ARM (a more severe type of ARM).

The researchers found that fruit consumption was inversely associated with risk of neovascular ARM, and participants who ate three or more servings per day of fruit had a 36 percent lower risk of ARM compared to participants who reported eating less than 1.5 servings per day. These findings were similar for men and women.

The researchers also found that "None of the vegetable items appeared to be strongly related to either early or neovascular ARM risks, except that carrot intake had a weak, nonsignificant inverse association with the neovascular form."

"None of the antioxidant vitamins and carotenoids was strongly related to either early or neovascular ARM risk, although many of them, including total carotenoids, had a suggestive inverse association with neovascular ARM risk," the researchers write.

They conclude: "In this prospective study of women and men, intakes of antioxidant vitamins or carotenoids either from food only or from food and supplements were not strongly related to ARM risk. Similarly, no substantial associations were observed between vegetable intake and ARM. However, fruit intake was inversely related to ARM, particularly neovascular ARM, the form of this disease that frequently involves severe vision loss."

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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