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Nutrition and retina health

Mediterranean diet on the menu for healthy retinas

Leigh Spielberg

Posted: Friday, November 1, 2019

Cécile Delcourt PhD

There is now plenty of evidence to confirm that a healthy diet plays a significant role in retinal health, according to Cécile Delcourt PhD, Director of Research at the Bordeaux Population Health Research Centre in France.

Dr Delcourt presented an overview of the research to date regarding the nutritional threats and benefits for the retina at the 19th Annual EURETINA Congress in Paris.

The most highly studied nutrients are antioxidants (vitamin E, vitamin C and zinc), the macular pigments lutein and zeaxanthin and omega-3 fatty acids.

“Although most of the research has involved specific nutrients involved in retinal health, I find that concentrating on dietary profiles, rather than individual nutrients, is more effective and interesting,” said Dr Delcourt.

This is because of the probable synergistic effect of the different nutritional components in an entire diet, rather than selected supplementation of micronutrients.

Dr Delcourt cited the Mediterranean diet, which is associated with longevity and lowered risk of cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline. “The Mediterranean diet is rich in the micronutrients and essential fatty acids, such as omega-3, that have been shown to be beneficial to retinal health,” she said.

High plasma levels of omega-3 are associated with a 40% lower risk for advanced AMD. The micronutrients include vitamins, carotenoids and polyphenols, she noted.

Post-hoc analysis of the Age-related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) showed that the risk of progression to advanced AMD was reduced by 26% in those who were highly adherent to the Mediterranean diet, and that this effect was stronger in individuals who had a high genetic risk of developing advanced AMD. An even stronger effect (41%) was demonstrated by the EyeRisk project, based on the Rotterdam Study and the Alienor Study.

“The Mediterranean diet is based on a rich culinary tradition that is varied, colourful and tasty,” she said. “It is not a restrictive diet that is focused on counting calories, but rather can be adhered to for a long period of time.”

Adherence to these diets is measured via questionnaires. However, these are long and tedious to complete and are a subjective assessment, which makes them susceptible to reporting bias. But there are newer, more accurate tests to determine plasma levels of certain nutrients, called nutritional biomarkers, which are quick, objective and precise.

“Measuring nutritional biomarkers could both help identify individuals with nutritional deficiencies and could help monitor nutritional interventions,” concluded Dr Delcourt.

Cécile Delcourt: cecile.delcourt@u-bordeaux.fr