Eat Red, Purple, and Blue: Dietary Anthocyanin and Eye Health

I recently ran across an interesting bit of trivia:  During World War II, British Royal Air Force aviators ate billberry jam daily to improve their night vision. Although the underlying truth of this legend is murky, this interesting bit of information in conjunction with recent popular press about the health benefits of berries led me to do a bit more research on the influence of these foods on ocular health. Can the antioxidants found in berries have an impact on the eyes?

Although investigations into the effect of billberry (similar to blueberries) on night vision have shown no correlation, recent research on dietary anthocyanin have shown positive results. Anthocyanin is the pigmentation that provides the red, purple, and blue colors to many fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, and red cabbage.

While blueberries, in particular, have been dubbed in the media as a “super-fruit” and have received accolades for heart health and cancer prevention, digging a little deeper into the research shows us some ocular benefits as well. A recent overview published in World Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences notes that anthocyanins can protect the retina from oxidative stress and can be beneficial for multiple eye conditions such as macular degeneration, myopia, and eye infections. In addition, there is evidence showing that these compounds my inhibit lens opacity and may reduce diabetic cataracts.

Anthocyanins contribute to maintaining and enhancing endothelial function as well; endothelial cells help to form the cornea. While much research remains to be done in this area, preliminary studies note the great potential that exists for improved vision from these dietary compounds.

When shopping for produce this week, look for the dark red, blue, and purple colors that tell you a food is rich in anthocyanin. Remember that it is the anthocyanin that provides these deep colors. In your food preparation, be sure to include the most colorful part of the produce; for instance, when preparing eggplant, you will want to include the peel in your dish to ensure that you are getting all of the anthocyanin benefits.

Have you found that increasing your consumption of anthociaynin-rich foods has had an impact on your vision? Please share your experience here with us.