Researchers Vouch For Value Of Corn In Eye Health

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When you reach for those tempting ears of fresh sweet corn in the produce aisle, you’ll be pleased to know that medical researchers approve of your choice. Corn, it turns out, is one of the very best dietary sources of two antioxidant carotenoids–cousins of Vitamin A—called lutein and zeaxanthin. Like other carotenoids, they seem to play a role in preventing heart disease and cancer. But in addition, several recent studies have shown that a high intake of lutein and zeaxanthin (pronounced zee-uh-zanthin) is associated with a significant reduction in the risk of a chronic eye disease called macular degeneration. Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) is not some obscure medical condition–it is the leading cause of legal blindness among the elderly. According to the National Eye Institute, 25% of the population over 65 years of age show signs of this progressively debilitating condition, for which there is no cure.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are yellow pigments found in high concentration in the macular region of the retina, the area responsible for sharp vision. They seem to protect the eye in two different ways—first as antioxidants, protecting the delicate retinal tissue from oxidative damage caused by free radicals and, second, as filters, absorbing high-energy blue light rays before they can cause photo-oxidative damage. As ARMD progresses, the density of yellow macular pigment declines. A direct association between consumption of a lutein/zeaxanthin-rich diet and the density of the macular pigment in the retina has been observed in a number of studies.

Lutein and zeaxanthinmay may also play a role in slowing the development of cataracts. Since lutein and zeaxanthin are the only carotenoids detectable in the lens, researchers believe that these powerful antioxidants may protect the clear proteins in the lens from undergoing the oxidation that causes them to become cloudy. Lutein’s health benefits extend beyond eye health. According to studies conducted recently at the University of Southern California, lutein may help prevent hardening of the arteries that can lead to heart attack and stroke.

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