The cartoon character Popeye was known for having great strength after eating his spinach. If Popeye was a real person the latest research shows that same spinach would also be protecting his eyes from macular degeneration.
Researchers in Australia have learned vegetable nitrites, which are found in abundance in beetroot and leafy green vegetables like spinach, could help reduce the chance of developing early-stage age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Westmead Institute for Medical Research scientists interviewed more than 2,000 adults in Australia over the age of 49 and followed them for a period of 15 years. They discovered people who had between 100 and 142 milligrams of vegetable nitrates each day had a 35 percent lower risk of developing early AMD compared to people who consumed less than 69 milligrams per day.
"This is the first time the effects of dietary nitrates on macular degeneration risk has been measured,” said Professor Bamini Gopinath. "Essentially we found that people who ate 100 to 142 mgs of vegetable nitrates every day had a reduced risk of developing early signs of macular degeneration compared with people who ate fewer nitrates. If our findings are confirmed, incorporating a range of foods rich in dietary nitrates—like green leafy vegetables and beetroot—could be a simple strategy to reduce the risk of early macular degeneration."
There is currently no cure for AMD and one in seven Australians over the age of 50 have some signs of the disease which can lead to blindness. Age is thought to be the strongest risk factor as it is most likely to occur in people over the age of 50.
Spinach has some of the highest concentration of vegetable nitrates with 20 mg per 100 gram serving. Beetroot has about 15 mg of nitrates per 100 gram serving.
There appeared to be no additional benefit for those that exceeded the 142 mg limit of vegetable nitrates and there was no discernable connection between vegetable nitrates and late-stage AMD.
Researchers reviewed data from one of the world’s largest studies of its kind, the Blue Mountains Eye Study. It started in 1992 and it measures diet and lifestyle factors against health outcomes and a range of chronic diseases.
"Our research aims to understand why eye diseases occur, as well as the genetic and environmental conditions that may threaten vision," Gopinath said.