Your Mother was Right — Eat Your Carrots

Your parents may have told you, “Eat your carrots, they’re good for your eyes,” and a new study suggests they were on to something.

Pigments called carotenoids — which give red or orange hues to carrots, sweet potatoes and orange peppers, or deep greens to produce like spinach, broccoli and kale — may help ward off the age-linked vision ailment known as macular degeneration, researchers said.

While the study can’t prove cause-and-effect, one vision care expert wasn’t surprised by the findings.

“I tell my patients that fruit and vegetable consumption are very important for eye health — this study validates that notion,” said Dr. Paul Bernstein, a professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City.

A team led by Joanne (Juan) Wu, a graduate student in nutrition epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, sought to better understand any connection.

Wu’s team found that, in a study of 100,000 people, those who consumed the very highest levels of carotenoids known as lutein and zeaxanthin had a 40 percent lower risk of the advanced form of AMD compared to those who ate the very least.

“Other carotenoids, including beta cryptoxanthin, alpha carotene and beta carotene, may also play protective roles,” Wu added. People who consumed the very highest amount of these carotenoids — found in foods such as carrots and sweet potato — had a 25 to 35 percent lower risk of the advanced form of the illness, the findings showed.

Researchers did not find any link between the carotenoids and the intermediate form of macular degeneration, however.

The study is published in the Oct. 8 online edition of JAMA Ophthalmology.

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