June 15th, 2010
03:32 PM ET

Study: Colorful vegetables can keep vision healthy

By Matt Sloane
CNN Medical Producer

Getting older is inevitable, just like income taxes. But according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin, poor vision doesn't necessarily have to be a part of the aging process – at least not as early as you would expect – if you eat correctly.

The study followed more than 2,000 women, and found those who ate a diet high in colorful vegetables – dark leafy greens, tomatoes, peppers, squash and corn, among others – developed cataracts about two and half years later than women who ate diets high in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.

"We will all get cataracts if we live long enough," said Julie Mares, Ph.D., lead study author and professor of nutrition at the University of Wisconsin. "But if we can delay cataract production by 10 years, we can cut the number of surgeries needed in half."

According to Mares, these colorful vegetables contain a yellowish pigment called lutein, which helps absorb harmful light entering the eyes and can repair damage to proteins in the lens of the eye.

"When proteins are damaged, they go from being clear to being cloudy," said Mares, and its those cloudy proteins that responsible for the cloudy lenses seen in cataract patients.

Mares also points out that although these results were only seen in women, she fully expects that the benefits of healthy eating for eyesight would extend to men as well.  A future study in male populations is planned.

Cataracts affect about 20 million Americans over the age of 40  and generally are  characterized as a clouding of the permanent lens behind the pupil of the eye.

Dr. John Kim, director of opthalmology at Emory University says surgery can correct the problem.

"Surgeons make a small incision into the eye, and use ultrasound energy to break up the cataract into smaller piece," Kim says. "Then, the surgeon essentially vacuums the pieces out, and implants a plastic lens."

Kim says the surgery only takes about 8 to 15 minutes per eye, and a patients only need local anesthetic – something as simple as anesthetic eye drops – to numb the area.

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soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. John Smith

    Great post Matt! I'm a firm believer that, in general, we don't vary our diets enough in the West. In the past I would go weeks without eating any veggies outside of lettuce. And I wear glasses (any correlation?) As I say on mydiet solution program blog, general health (both physical AND spiritual) is a matter of getting the facts and consuming the proper foods!

    As far as the cataracts study you mentioned, I just read an article about how certain medicines, especially antidepressants and diuretics, can cause them as well. Now, I'm not saying some medications aren't necessary,but we do need to be mindful of what we put in our bodies. And we could all use more veggies, especially the colorful ones.

    June 15, 2010 at 16:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Billshut

    Just like Mom used to say, "Eat your carrots! They'll help your eyes see better!!" (of course, you knew that Mom couldn't possibly be right about such a silly sounding thing, dind't you??).

    June 16, 2010 at 08:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Kraig Rasool

    Great story....as both my parents wear glasses and my mother who
    has bi-focals, Im concerned that one day I too will need to wear them.
    At the present time my eye-sight is fine and Im a strong advocate of
    eating an abundance of colorful vegetables (even juicing them)....
    I too believe that with getting older there isnt necessarily a need to
    think that things automatically go down hill. You should age like a fine
    wine and keep the velocity you once had in your younger years...However if that day does arrive when i will have to put on a pair,
    at least I know that Ive delayed it as long as I could by eating the proper vegetables.

    June 16, 2010 at 11:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Jim Purdy

    Interesting article - and very timely for me, because I was just trying to decide what to eat for lunch.

    After reading this article, I've decided on a salad, with a side of mixed vegetables.

    Jim Purdy
    The 50 Best Health Blogs

    June 16, 2010 at 14:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Judy Sanders

    My husband quit wearing reading glasses after wearing them for 20 years. He says it is because he has been drinking carrot juice for 8 months.

    June 21, 2010 at 22:58 | Report abuse | Reply

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