Nutrition Action Healthletter
December 1999 — U.S. Edition
Cataracts and Spinach

[Picture] Spinach, kale, broccoli, and other foods rich in the carotenoid lutein may cut the risk of cataracts, according to two major studies at the Harvard Medical School.

   Johanna Seddon and colleagues monitored more than 77,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study and more than 36,000 men in the Health Professionals’ Follow-up Study. After 12 years, 1,471 cataracts were extracted from the women and after eight years, 840 cataracts were extracted from the men.

   Those who ate the most lutein had about a 20 percent lower risk of cataract surgery than those who ate the least. For example:

  • women who ate spinach and other greens at least twice a week had an 18 percent lower risk than women who consumed them less than once a month, and
  • men who ate broccoli more than twice a week had a 23 percent lower risk than men who consumed it less than once a month.
   No other carotenoids were linked to cataracts.

   “It’s too soon for lutein supplements,” wrote Julie Mares-Perlman of the University of Wisconsin Medical School in an editorial in the same journal. Something else in green vegetables could protect eyes. — Bonnie Liebman

Amer. J. Clin. Nutr. 70: 431, 509, 517, 1999.

Stroke and Six-A-Day

What do orange juice, broccoli, cabbage, and collards have in common? They’re among the fruits and vegetables that may best cut the risk of stroke, say researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health.

   Alberto Ascherio and colleagues studied more than 75,000 women who entered the Nurses’ Health Study in 1980 and more than 38,000 men who entered the Health Professionals’ Follow-up Study in 1986. By 1994, 366 of the women and 204 of the men had suffered an ischemic stroke, which usually occurs when a partially clogged artery feeding the brain gets blocked by a blood clot.

   The people who consumed the most servings of fruits and vegetables (an average of five a day for men and six a day for women) had about a 30 percent lower risk of stroke than those who consumed less than three servings a day. The risk didn’t drop further in people who ate more than six servings a day.

   Most protected were people who ate cruciferous vegetables (like cauliflower or Brussels sprouts) or leafy green vegetables (like spinach or kale).

   The advice to eat more fruits and vegetables doesn’t apply only to people with high blood pressure, says Ascherio. “The association is not entirely explained by beneficial effects on blood pressure.” — BL

J. Amer. Med. Assoc. 282: 1233, 1999.

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