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Key nutrients can improve vision both in ageing and in healthy eyes, according to EU-funded research. Doctors are now prescribing supplements of these nutrients, while the researchers are investigating other possible health benefits.

Inside fruit and vegetables are pigments, known as carotenoids, which can boost health. Three of these – lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin – protect the eye’s macula, which is responsible for central and detailed vision.

Extensive eye tests in the EU-funded CREST project showed that supplements of these carotenoids can help people to see better. The project researchers also identified the best way to enrich the combination of the pigments to optimise the eye’s use of light.

The results are important for patients in the early stages of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) as well as people who need sharp vision for their jobs, such as police officers or sportspeople.

‘These carotenoids are now routinely used in eye care. Doctors are prescribing them internationally with great success,’

says Professor John Nolan of the Waterford Institute of Technology, who led CREST using a European Research Council grant.

New horizons

Nolan and his team have continued to study data from CREST. An analysis they published in early 2018 showed that carotenoids also help memory and reactions. ‘This is a new horizon. We are applying for a grant to take this further,’ Nolan says. He adds that other follow-on studies by the team, supported by the Howard Foundation UK, have shown that carotenoids may improve the quality of life for patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

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In total, CREST researchers have received almost EUR 6.5 million of private and public funding for follow-on work. According to Nolan, ‘The ERC is one of the best research programmes out there. It created a unique platform to attract the best scientists and do the best research, which attracted funding.

‘We are also getting international attention at conferences,’ Nolan adds. ‘We are leveraging the ERC’s investment to take research to the next level.’ CREST’s legacy could impact healthcare policy. ‘The growing cost of AMD disease is not affordable,’ Nolan says. ‘The advantage of this preventative treatment for healthcare finances is a possible topic for a future project.’