Keep an Eye on Spinach

Lutein reverses vision loss.

Keep an Eye on Spinach

Fall 2004

By Sally Lehrman

Lutein reverses vision loss. Mini Spinach Pies: Parmesan Spinach Cakes Nearly two decades ago, optometrist Stuart Richer noticed something funny about patients who began taking multivitamins. Those who had age-related macular degeneration—a disease that affects one in eight Americans with vision loss and sometimes blindness—not only seemed to stabilize, but improved.

Intrigued, he went back to school in biophysiology to see if he could figure out the reason. His first studies helped show that antioxidants did slow the disease, and even worked to prevent it. More recently he has learned that a specific antioxidant, lutein, can actually reverse some of the symptoms.

Richer, chief of optometry at the North Chicago Veterans Administration Medical Center, recently tested lutein’s effects on 90 patients. Over a year’s time, those who took 10 milligrams of lutein every day began to see about one line better on eye charts. Image quality and contrast increased, and glare became less of a problem.

We get lutein from leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, kale and collards, plus kiwi, zucchini, pumpkin, egg yolks, corn and red grapes. Already known to be important to vision, the antioxidant collects in the center of the retina, supporting the structure of delicate photoreceptors and filtering out certain types of light that cause damage. In Richer’s tests, the density of the yellow macular pigment, which is thought to protect against age-related degeneration, improved 40 percent.

While Richer used supplements for the study, he recommends one of his favorite vegetables as a strong preventive. “Spinach is a super-food, with folate, beta carotene, vitamins E and C and a series of other nutrients,” he says. He suggests eating four ounces every other day. Personally, however, he also takes a daily multivitamin with lutein for good measure.

Those who took 10 mg of lutein every day began to see about one line better on eye charts.