FRIDAY, Aug. 29, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Eating plenty of antioxidant-rich food such as blueberries, artichokes and pecans may help protect against macular degeneration, the leading cause of age-related blindness in the United States and other developed countries.
U.S. researchers found that antioxidants disrupt a link between two processes in the retina that, in combination, contribute to macular degeneration. Antioxidants also extend the lifetime of irreplaceable photoreceptors and other retinal cells.
The "destructive synergy" that causes macular degeneration occurs when a buildup of a compound called A2E disrupts energy production in mitochondria, the "power plants" in cells, the researchers said. The lack of energy interferes with daily cleaning and maintenance of photoreceptors and another type of retinal cell. This leads to more buildup of A2E and a continuing cycle that results in the destruction of the vital visual cells that can't be replaced.
Experiments using visual cells from humans, rats and cows showed that antioxidants could completely counter the damage caused by this process, said the researchers from Brigham Young University and Weill Medical College of Cornell University.
"The implication is that people at risk of macular degeneration could help prevent the disease by consuming antioxidants," study author Heidi Vollmer-Snarr, a Brigham Young chemist, said in a university news release.
The study was published online in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
"This work by Dr. Vollmer-Snarr and colleagues ties these two damaging processes together and demonstrates the harm they cause in combination is much more than would be expected," Dr. Paul Bernstein, of the University of Utah's Moran Eye Center, said in the news release. "This new knowledge," added Bernstein, who wasn't involved in the study, "suggests the possibility of interventions which could prove to be powerful ways to prevent or delay age-related macular degeneration."
The U.S. National Eye Institute has more about age-related macular degeneration.