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Leafy Green Vegetables May Lower Risk of Glaucoma

By Kathy Hubbard
“Eat your vegetables!” Yes, that’s your mother talking and now is a good time to start listening. Study results published in Health Day this week say that the risk of glaucoma drops by 20 percent or more for those who consume vegetables such as lettuce, broccoli, kale, spinach, cabbage, chard and other greens (you know, collard, turnip, mustard, etc.).
That’s a salad bowl full of good information. “We found those consuming the most green leafy vegetables had a 20 to 30 percent lower risk of glaucoma,” said study leader Jae Kang. Kang is an assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
The article said that Kang’s team followed nearly 64,000 participants in the Nurses’ Health Study from 1984 through 2012, and more than 41,000 participants in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study from 1986 through 2014. The men and women were all 40 or older. None had glaucoma at the start of the study, and they had eye exams every two years.
So, you may ask, what is glaucoma? The American Academy of Ophthalmology tells us, “Glaucoma is a disease that damages your eye’s optic nerve. It usually happens when fluid builds up in the front part of your eye. That extra fluid increases the pressure in your eye, damaging the optic nerve.”
Approximately three million Americans have glaucoma, but, unfortunately, only half of them know it. That’s because in its early stages there are no symptoms. Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in people over 60.
Let’s all start the new year with a trip to an eye care professional if we haven’t had an exam in the last two years. The tests are painless. This disease progresses slowly and steals your sight very gradually. It cannot be cured. But, blindness can be prevented if treatment is started early.
There are at least seven different types of glaucoma, but we’re going to focus on the most common, primary open-angle glaucoma. “It occurs when the trabecular meshwork of the eye gradually becomes less efficient at draining fluid. As this happens, your eye pressure, called intraocular pressure, rises. Raised eye pressure leads to damage of the optic nerve. Damage to the optic nerve can occur at different eye pressures in different patients, the AAO explains.
“There is not one ‘right’ eye pressure that is the same for everyone. Your ophthalmologist establishes a target eye pressure for you that he or she predicts will protect your optic nerve from further damage. Different patients have different target pressures.”
Glaucoma can occur in one or both eyes. A person with glaucoma will slowly start to lose peripheral vision. People will miss objects to the side or out of the corner of their eye. Eventually it’s like looking through a tunnel and over time the straight-ahead vision decreases until there is none at all.
Going back to the green leafy vegetable study, “The investigators divided the participants into five groups, from the highest level of leafy green vegetable consumption to the lowest. Those who ate the most averaged about 1.5 servings a day, or about one and a half cups a day, Kang said. Those in the group eating the least leafy greens ate about a serving every three days,” the article said.
What is it about leafy greens that may help eye health? “In glaucoma, we think there is an impairment of blood flow to the optic nerve,” Kang said. “And an important factor that regulates blood flow to the eye is a substance called nitric oxide.” Green leafy vegetables contain nitrates, which are precursors to nitric oxide, the researchers said.
“When you consume the higher amount of green leafy vegetables, you have greater levels of nitric oxide in your body,” Kang said.
Off hand, the only caution I have about eating more vegetables is to be careful about what you put on them. Avoid high calorie dressings, butter, salt and sugar. One, two, three, all together now, “Yes, Mother!”
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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