(NaturalHealth365) Age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of visual impairment and blindness among adults over 60, currently affects over 15 million people in the United States.
In fact, the National Institute of Health reports that more Americans suffer from this potentially debilitating eye disease than from cataracts and glaucoma – combined. And, as a sizable amount of the population rounds the curve into their “golden years,” the number is expected to rise even higher.
As scientists search for non-toxic, natural methods of treatment and prevention, a new Australian study is showcasing the power of oranges to act against macular degeneration. Let’s take a closer look at the study – and the astonishing ability of a common, everyday citrus fruit to preserve and protect eye health.
Reducing your risk of macular degeneration: What the study reveals
In a 15-year population-based study involving over 2,000 older Australian adults and published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers examined the effect of eating oranges on incidence of age-related macular degeneration.
What they found was surprising – and significant.
Eating at least one serving of oranges a day (greatly) reduced the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, fifteen years down the road. The researchers found that eating oranges didn’t just pare a tiny percentage off the risk of later-life macular degeneration. But, rather, it slashed it – by a whopping 61 percent!
And, the benefits weren’t confined to individuals who ate oranges daily. The team reported that the act of eating an orange once a week still conferred significant benefits for eye health.
Study leader Dr. Bamini Gopinath said that flavonoids – antioxidant and anti-inflammatory plant compounds found in virtually all fruits and vegetables – were likely responsible for the protective effect.
Oxidative stress, inflammation and exposure to UV light contribute to macular degeneration
As the name implies, age-related macular degeneration, or ARMD, is characterized by the deterioration of the macula – an oval, yellowish area at the center of the retina that is responsible for sharp, clear vision. ARMD may also be accompanied by deposits of cholesterol – known as drusen – under the retina.
ARMD is caused by age-related decreases in the retinal carotenoid content, along with the damaging effects of UV rays found in sunlight and in blue light from computer screens and TVs. As with most age-related chronic conditions, oxidative stress and inflammation play a major role.
Symptoms of macular degeneration include blurry and distorted vision, with possible “blank spots” in central vision. Straight lines that appear wavy, colors that appear faded and difficulty reading or doing fine handiwork may be additional tip-offs to macular degeneration.
Important note: Any change in your vision calls for a prompt visit to a qualified eye doctor.
Clearly, protecting the macula is of primary importance in preventing macular degeneration. And, boosting the antioxidant defenses of the eye – through a healthy diet and supplementation – can help accomplish this.
How oranges are uniquely suited to fighting macular degeneration
Interestingly, the researchers also examined the effect on eye health of other flavonoid-rich foods such as apples, tea and red wine. However, they found no data connecting these foods to decreased odds of macular degeneration.
The key to the orange’s powers against macular degeneration could lie in the fruit’s high concentrations of lutein and zeaxanthin.
Like all foods that are naturally bright orange or yellow (of course, artificially colored foods, such as Cheez Doodles, don’t count), oranges are packed with these carotenoids, or natural pigments.
Studies have shown that consuming lutein and zeaxanthin has a direct effect on macular pigment density, which protects against degeneration. Keep in mind, organic mangoes, carrots, squash, pumpkin and corn are also great sources of eye-protecting nutrients.
Oranges are not only rich in flavonoids – including hesperidin, naringen, quercetin and limonene – but are also a good source of vitamin C – a powerful antioxidant in its own right. Researchers have discovered that this nutrient – normally found in high concentrations in the cells of the cornea, helps to absorb damaging UV radiation, protect the cells of the eye and prevent oxidative stress.
Study yields list of top vitamins for eyesight
Many natural health experts recommend the AREDS 2 formula, which was developed out of a 2001 National Eye Institute study on nutrients and age-related eye diseases.
The combination of vitamins, minerals and nutrients includes vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, lutein and zeaxanthin – all of which have been identified as protective of eye health.
Other natural nutrients can be effective as well.
Saffron – a flavorful yellow Asian spice – has yielded impressive results in warding off macular degeneration.
One study showed that patients given 20 mg a day of saffron had healthier retinal cells than a control group – with improved eye responses to light. In another study, fourteen months of saffron supplementation sharpened visual acuity and led to patients being able to read two additional lines on a standard eye chart.
And experts say that astaxanthin, the carotenoid that gives salmon flesh its pinkish-orange hue, is capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier, directly delivering antioxidant activity to the brain and eyes.
Speaking of salmon health benefits – eating a healthy amount of omega-3 fatty acids found in cold-water fish also helps to cut the risk of age-related eye diseases. One meta-analysis showed that high dietary intake of omega-3s cut macular degeneration risk by 38 percent.
But the surprising “sleeper” natural supplement for combating ARMD may turn out to be melatonin, the hormone that promotes natural slumber. In one clinical study, researchers found that 3 mg of melatonin every night helped to prevent further vision loss in patients who had already developed ARMD.
Naturally, check with your knowledgeable integrative physician before supplementing.
The takeaway to all of this? Juicy, refreshing organic oranges have a sweet, previously-unsuspected health benefit – helping to prevent the macular degeneration that jeopardizes our precious eyesight.
And that’s truly an eye-opening revelation. (pardon the pun.)
Sources for this article include:
Food & Nutrition
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