It is known that a Mediterranean diet has many health benefits. Now researchers find that people who take the Mediterranean diet – especially by eating fruits – has 30% less risk to develop age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness.
The study was led by University of Coimbra in Portugal. Researchers newly presented the finding at the 120th annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Previous research has shown the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, healthy fats and fish, and limiting red meat and butter.
The diet has been shown to improve heart health and reduced risk of cancer, but there has been little research on whether its benefits can extend to eye disease.
To determine this, researchers studied a Portuguese population to see whether adherence to the diet impacted people’s risk of age-related macular degeneration.
A total of 883 people age 55 or older were recruited in the study during 2013-2015. Among them, 449 had AMD in its early stages before vision loss, and 434 had normal vision.
Researchers assessed participants’ diets based on a questionnaire asking how often they ate foods associated with the Mediterranean diet.
The more they ate foods associated with the diet, the higher the score, from 0-9. Those who closely followed the diet scored a 6 or greater.
Researchers found that among people did not closely follow the diet (scored below a 6), 50% had AMD. In people who closely followed the diet (scored 6 or above), only 39% had AMD.
This represents a 35% lower risk compared to those who did not adhere to the diet.
Furthermore, fruits were especially beneficial. People who ate higher levels of fruits were much less likely to have AMD.
In addition, caffeine and antioxidants also were protective. Higher consumption of antioxidants such as caffeine, beta-carotene and vitamins C and E was protective against AMD.
Although caffeine is not considered part of the Mediterranean diet per se, consumption of caffeine-containing foods such as coffee and tea is common in Mediterranean countries.
Caffeine is a powerful antioxidant known to be protective against other conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers suggest that this study shows that a healthy, fruit-rich diet is important to eye health. Future work will try to develop effective preventive medicine for AMD.
News source: American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
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