Eyeing greens and devouring them is a favorite pastime for the cartoon man, Popeye, who simply preens at the mention of the green goodies. An acclaimed brand ambassador of spinach and an icon that little kids swear by, what is the secret behind the 77 year old sailor's eyes, who still boasts of a perfect vision without the help of appendages?
Scientists from the University of Manchester, armed with a novel eye device are trying to understand the nutritional contents of spinach that endows eyes with such strength. According to scientists, sweet corn, broccoli and spinach contain healthy levels of a vital chemical called lutein. This chemical joins up with carotenoid and zeaxanthin to make an oily yellow substance, at the mid point of the retina.
This yellow oil, called the macular pigment, is considered to be a protective cover against age-related macular degeneration or AMD. AMD is thought to affect nearly 12% of men in the UK and 29% of women, above 75 years of age.
Dr Ian Murray, who is leading the research in Manchester's Faculty of Life Sciences said, "Our work has already found strong evidence to suggest that macular pigment provides some protection against AMD but we want to discover whether eating vegetables rich in these chemicals will have a direct impact on the disease. Since macular pigment is wholly derived from our diet we would expect that eating foods containing high levels of these compounds increases macular pigment and so helps slow the degenerative process. This latest study on volunteers with early-stage AMD will test that idea."
Scientists are still unclear regarding the reasons for vulnerability of certain people to age-related macular degeneration. They caution that this trend will only increase with an aging population.
Joining hands with Tinsley Ophthalmic Instruments, Dr Murray's lab has conceived a lightweight instrument that is capable of indicating the levels of lutein and zeaxanthin; This will indeed be a valid indication of the potential harm that low levels of macular pigment can cause in impairing vision. The scientists are of the opinion that people deficient in the macular pigment, could resort to consuming lutein or zeaxanthin supplements, while also consuming vegetables rich in carotenoids, that will assist in keeping macular degeneration at bay.