Research breakthrough offers improved vision for healthy eyes in Ophthalmology Times Europe

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A new breakthrough in ophthalmological research signals major potential implications for motorists, train drivers, pilots and sportspeople

Irish-based research holds out the prospect of even sharper vision for those who already have good eyesight in a study of over 18 years-worth of work with over one-hundred subjects.

While most ophthalmologists focus on restoring sight, a new study has been published that actually improves healthy vision. Titled CREST (Central Retinal Enrichment Supplementation Trials) the research was conducted by the Macular Pigment Research Group at Nutrition Research Centre Ireland (NRCI). Based at Carriganore House in Waterford, it’s part of the School of Health Sciences at Waterford Institute of Technology, set in a small city on the south coast of Ireland (like many small centres since the advent of the internet and the consequential levelling of the academic playing field, has developed a worldwide reputation for vision science.)

New ways of seeing are emerging from the first rigidly-designed study of its kind, with results culminating in 18 years’ work, the latest research funded by the European Research Council involved 105 volunteers undergoing complex tests of vision over a 12-month period.

Lead-researcher Professor Nolan has authored over 80 peer-reviewed research papers, with a research focus on the impact of carotenoid supplementation on and his colleague Professor Stephen Beatty has been involved in ophthalmic research since 1994, and has published over 150 peer-reviewed papers.

Today their latest research demonstrates, for the first time, that supplementation can optimize vision in people who do not exhibit eye disease. The results of this study have important implications for those who rely on their vision for professional reasons, such as high-performance sportspeople like golfers, hurlers, cricketers, tennis and baseball players,, motorists, train drivers, pilots, police and military marksmen and those involved in quality control.

Speaking to Ophthalmology Times Europe about his work, Professtor Beatty says: “Of the 105 subjects, 53 received daily supplements while 52 received a placebo (the control group). The outcome unequivocally demonstrates that those receiving macular carotenoids – lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin – enjoyed meaningful benefits to their visual function. The improvement recorded was primarily in people’s contrast sensitivity – how much contrast a person needs to see a target (i.e. how faint an object can you see).”

Whereas most research in this area has focused on corrective action for those who have already suffered vision loss as a result of eye disease, this new study concentrated on those with strong and healthy eyesight, and yet found marked improvements in vision among those who received specific dietary supplements such as MacuShield over a year.

“In other words,” says Professor beatty, “and again for the first time, there is now a robust evidence base in support of supplementation in any attempt to optimize a patient’s vision, and this is especially important for patients eager to achieve maximum vision.”

The improvements in visions were observed after 12 months of supplementation with Macushield/Macuhealth. This formulation (10 mg L, 10 mg MZ and 2 mg Z) is commercially available as Macushield in Europe and as Macuhealth in North America, and remains the only formulation shown by level 1 evidence to confer these benefits in healthy eyes; this observation is unsurprising, given that the formulation (Macushield/Macuhealth) contains MZ, the carotenoid that is dominant in the central fovea where vision is sharpest and where oxidative stress is greatest.

So what’s the science behind eye health supplement Macushield? Professor Beatty tells us: “This finding is consistent with reports in patients with age-related macular degeneration, where it has been shown that continuous supplementation is required for best results.[7]  The observed improvements are realised, we believe, as a consequence of the filtering properties of macular pigment (this pigment is located at a pre-receptoral level, and it screens visible blue light, thereby attenuating the vision-degrading impact of blue light [i.e. chromatic aberration and light scatter]) and as a consequence of macular pigment’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (thus facilitating neural efficiency and the visual cycle).  In fact, these findings are unsurprising, given the macula’s evolved ability to selectively accumulate just 3 of the 60 carotenoids in a human diet.  In other words, it is no accident of nature, and we now know that these carotenoids are located at the macula in order to optimise vision.”

Prof Stephen Beatty adds that there are also significant quality of life implications emanating from the research findings – “There has been an understandable focus in research to date on aiding those with failing eyesight as a result of disease. What this latest work demonstrates is that people who are free of eye disease (especially if they are lacking the nutrient in the eye) will experience improved vision as a result of appropriate supplementation. Clearly this will enhance one’s quality of life in everyday activities, such as enjoying a pleasant view, but these improvements in contrast sensitivity will also make it easier to read printed text, thereby easing eye strain and fatigue in the workplace and at home. In short, these findings have important implications for those seeking maximum visual performance, whether for work or leisure.”

In the context of a double blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial (i.e. level 1 evidence), that supplementation with a formulation containing lutein (L), meso-zeaxanthin (MZ) and zeaxanthin (Z) in a ratio (mg) of 10:10:2 results in improvements in contrast sensitivity (i.e. appreciation of faintness) at two spatial frequencies (i.e. target sizes) in healthy subjects.  These improvements in vision are equivalent to a full line of vision at those spatial frequencies, and are therefore clinically meaningful.  This intervention, which consists solely of naturally occurring nutrients already in the human food chain, represents the first means of improving eyesight in normal subjects since the invention of spectacles.

Prof John Nolan, Principal Investigator for the CREST study and founder of the Nutrition Research Centre Ireland, added: “All of us involved in this research are tremendously excited about the outcome – not only from a scientific perspective but also because of the significant benefits it will have for a wide range of people. Many people may already consider themselves to have ‘good’ eyesight, but now we know that many of these would benefit from appropriate supplementation. To take the example of drivers on our busy roads, improvements in contrast sensitivity, such as we have seen in our study population, would allow for earlier and more accurate detection ofmoving and non-moving objects in our field of view, and will therefore improve driving safety. Sportspeople – especially those in fast ballgames – also stand to benefit greatly, and we were delighted to have Noel Connors, the Waterford senior hurler and All-Star undergo testing at our vision research centre.”

“This is a game-changer for eye care professionals,” concludes Professor Beatty. “Put simply, if a patient asks his/her ophthalmologist/optometrist “Is there anything else I can do to make my eyesight better?”, the eye care professional can now confidently invoke this level 1 evidence base and reply “By taking appropriate supplements that contain lutein, meso-zeaxanthin and zeaxanthin.””

Read the full version with graphs in print here: ote1016_016-019_macushield

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