- A recent study suggests that eating a small portion of dried goji berries regularly could prevent age-related vision issues.
- The compounds in the berries provide protection from damage related to light exposure, researchers noted.
- Goji berries are not the only foods containing these compounds.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common issue as people age and is considered the leading cause of vision loss. However, there are strategies that can lower risk. A recent study in the journal Nutrients suggests that adding dried goji berries to your diet could have meaningful effects.
Goji berries were chosen for two reasons, according to the study’s lead author, Xiang Li, PhD(c), with the nutritional biology program at University of California, Davis. First, they have been extensively used in Chinese medicine for their “eye brightening” qualities, says Li, who grew up in northern China and was curious about what bioactive compounds were related to this claim.
“These compounds are like sunscreen for your eyes,” Li says. “Our study found that even in normal healthy eyes, these optical pigments can be increased with a small daily serving of goji berries.”
About the Study
During the study, researchers measured the density of protective pigments in the eyes of 27 healthy people between the ages of 45 and 65. They asked about half of them to eat 1 ounce of dried goji berries five times weekly for 90 days. The other half took a commercial supplement for eye health at the same frequency and duration.
At the end of 3 months, the pigments were assessed again and those in the berry group saw a significant increase while the supplement group showed no changes. These results are important because more of these pigments in the retina help shield the eyes from light damage, both from sunlight and blue light.
Goji berries are high in lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been associated with a lower risk of eye diseases and are often used in conjunction with vitamins C, E, zinc, and copper for intermediate stages of AMD. These two compounds naturally occur in the lens, retina, and macula parts of your eyes, and they are important for limiting light-related damage.
Xiang Li, PhD(c)
— Xiang Li, PhD(c)
Also, it takes a very small amount of dried goji berries to make a difference—the amount used for the study, 1 ounce, is about a handful—and the compounds are also highly bioavailable. Li says that means they are usually absorbed well in the digestive system so the body can use them effectively.
Why Lifestyle Changes Matter
Although the recent study was limited by its small number of participants, finding ways to combat AMD is crucial. According to the National Eye Institute, the condition can blur your central vision and occurs when aging causes damage to the macula, the light-sensitive part of the eye related to sharp, straight-ahead vision.
AMD does not always lead to complete blindness, but the loss of central vision can make it difficult to recognize faces, read, and drive. The condition tends to happen very slowly in most people. Early AMD has few symptoms, so you may not notice the vision loss until you are at the intermediate stage.
Your risk for AMD increases as you age. It is also higher for those who smoke, are Caucasian, and those who have a family history of the condition.
No Goji Berries? No Problem
Although there are many supplements that combine lutein and zeaxanthin, it hasn’t been demonstrated that these actually improve eye health as claimed. Plus, Li says, the recent study that used a supplement with these compounds showed no improvement in protective pigments.
A better strategy may be to get these compounds through foods, she adds. Not only will you be boosting your eye protection, but you will also be gaining a range of vitamins, minerals, and fiber that provide other health advantages.
Lutein and zeaxanthin usually come paired together in certain foods. Some examples include egg yolks, corn, orange bell peppers, zucchini, and dark leafy greens like spinach.
What to Avoid
Just as important as what to include in a diet is what to exclude. Previous research in the British Journal of Ophthalmology suggests eating a Western pattern diet may significantly increase risk of developing the condition.
Amy Millen, PhD
— Amy Millen, PhD
Researchers looked at the effects of a diet high in red and processed meat, fried food, refined grains, and high-fat dairy, and found that participants who consumed mainly these types of foods were three times more likely to be affected by late-stage AMD.
“Foods that are part of the Western diet are less nutrient-dense, meaning they provide less of the beneficial nutrients needed for the eyes than food like fruits and vegetables,” says that study’s co-author, Amy Millen, PhD, a researcher in the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at The State University of New York at Buffalo.
“When it comes to eye health, diet matters,” she adds. “What you eat to maintain good health is also related to what you eat to maintain good vision.”
What This Means For You
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