A recent study in ophthalmology associated eating more leafy green vegetables with a 20 to 30 percent decrease in the risk of developing the degenerative eye disease known as glaucoma.
Glaucoma develops due to a number of factors, with the main culprits being pressure build-up in the eyes themselves and poor optic nerve blood flow, both of which can come with aging. Leafy greens are thought to benefit those at risk of developing glaucoma because they are high in both nitrate and nitrite, chemical compounds which promote better blood circulation.
The study was designed around a large number of participants who were tracked twice a year over a long period of time; 63,893 women were tracked between 1984 and 2012, while 41,094 men were tracked from 1986 to 2012. Participants were 40 years or older, showed no signs of glaucoma at the study’s start, and reported eye-examinations to the researchers. Dietary information was tracked through questionnaires.
Two Cupfuls of Spinach a Day
By the study’s end, 1,483 participants had developed glaucoma. An analysis of the dietary data indicated eating green leafy vegetables could be linked to a 20 to 30 percent decrease in glaucoma risk. Interestingly, this decrease jumped to 40 to 50 percent in patients who also showed early signs of central visual field loss, a subtype of glaucoma, closely associated with impaired blood flow. These reduced risk factors were linked to an average intake of 240 milligrams of nitrate from leafy greens per day, which amounts to about two cupfuls of spinach leaves.
Glaucoma is a disease which develops gradually over many years with dimming vision typically advancing from the periphery toward the center. A common symptom is being extra sensitive to light. Because glaucoma’s progression is so subtle and usually on the periphery of vision, many don’t realize it’s happening until it is well advanced.
Leafy greens have been linked in numerous other studies to other health benefits, largely due to their high nitrate content. For example, cardiac conditions, such as angina, can be treated with nitrates because it helps to dilate blood vessels, taking pressure off the vascular system and heart.
However, there are some consumer dangers associated with leafy green vegetables, as their leaves make efficient traps for the fertilizer they are grown in. They can sometimes be contaminated with health hazardous bacteria such as E. coli. Washing leafy greens thoroughly before consumption is a necessary health precaution.
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