By Adrian Galbreth
For many people, going blind is their worst nightmare, preventing them from seeing their loved ones and the world around them each day, but now it seems the threat of blindness can be staved off simply by eating grapes.
A new study published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine suggests that grapes slow or help prevent the onset of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a debilitating condition affecting millions of older people across the planet.
According to a team of experts led by principal investigator Dr Silvia Finnemann, from the Department of Biological Sciences at Fordham University in New York, the antioxidant actions of grapes are responsible for these protective effects.
The study examined the impact of an antioxidant-rich diet on vision, using three groups of mice prone to AMD which were fed either a grape-enriched diet, a diet with added lutein or a normal diet.
The result was that grapes proved to offer "dramatic protection", guarding against oxidative damage of the retina and preventing blindness in those mice which consuming grapes.
In addition, lutein was shown to be effective, though it was not as potent as grapes in protecting vision.
Dr Finnemann said the protective effect of the grapes in the study was "remarkable", as they offered vision benefits at an old age, even if initially consumed at a young age.
She explained that that age-related vision loss is a result of cumulative, oxidative damage over time, but a lifelong diet enriched in natural antioxidants, such as those in grapes, appears to halt or reverse this.
AMD is caused by a decline in the function of retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells, which are the support cells for the photoreceptors in the retina, critical to the process of converting light into sight.
RPE dysfunction is caused a build-up of metabolic waste products in the RPE itself and an oxidation burden on the RPE that compromises important metabolic pathways.
The resulting dysfunction, distress and often death of the RPE cells leads to AMD, but Dr Finneman noted that grapes appear to be directly beneficial to RPE cells and, consequently, retinal health and function.
"This study showed that adding grapes to the diet prevented blindness in mice by significantly decreasing the build-up of lipofuscin and preventing the oxidative damage to the RPE, thus ensuring optimal functioning of this critical part of the retina," the authors stated.
Commenting on the report, Kathleen Nave, president of the California Table Grape Commission, said it is good news for consumers of all ages who enjoy grapes, and adds to the growing body of evidence that the fruit offers an "array" of health benefits.
by Adrian Galbreth