Pigments in colorful vegetables may ward off macular degeneration

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Carotenoids, the pigments that give color to vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, and kale, may help prevent the vision ailment known as age-related macular degeneration. The researchers found that people who consumed the highest amounts of two carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin) present in green leafy vegetables had a 40 percent lower risk of the advanced form of age-related macular degeneration compared to those who consumed the least amount. Other carotenoids including beta cryptoxanthin, alpha carotene and beta carotene, found in foods such as carrots and sweet potato, were linked to a 25 to 35 percent reduced risk of the condition.

Age-related macular degeneration is the most common cause of vision loss in individuals over 55.

The study appeared online Oct. 8 in JAMA Ophthalmology.

Researchers led by Joanne (Juan) Wu, a graduate student in nutrition epidemiology, looked at data from health surveys that tracked more than 63,000 women and almost 39,000 men aged 50 and older from 1984 or 1986 until 2010. About 2.5 percent of study participants developed either intermediate or advanced age-related macular degeneration during the study period.

Walter Willett, Fredrick John Stare Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and chair of the Department of Nutrition, co-authored the study.