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Fruit may help diabetes eye problems

19th June 2012

A diet that includes at least two medium pieces of fruit every day may help prevent eye complications, which can lead to blindness for some people with type 2 diabetes, according to researchers in Japan.


In a study of 978 people with diabetes, researchers followed the eye health of participants, who had filled out detailed food questionnaires at the start of the study period.

None of the study subjects had any signs of eye problems at the start of the eight-year study.

During the eight year period, 258 of them developed damage to the blood vessels in the retina, the lining of tissue at the back of the eye.

Diabetic retinopathy can lead to loss of vision if left untreated.

According to study leader Shiro Tanaka of Kyoto University Hospital, the participants who ate the most fruit were the least likely to have developed diabetic retinopathy during the study period.

Researchers found that those who had an average daily fruit intake of 9 ounces halved their risk of developing the eye condition when compared with people who ate less than one ounce a day.

Even a daily fruit intake of 3-5 ounces was associated with 40% fewer cases of diabetic retinopathy, compared with those who ate the least fruit.

The odds were about 40% lower for people who ate an average of 3 to 5 ounces of fruit a day, compared with those who ate less than an ounce a day.

For the purposes of comparison, medium-sized apples, oranges or pears weigh around six ounces, while a banana weighs about five ounces.

A daily fruit portion of more than nine ounces could be achieved by eating one orange and one banana daily.

According to April Carson of the University of Alabama, the benefits of eating fruit could be due to the various vitamins and other nutrients in fruit working together to protect against eye complications.

Carson wasn't involved in the study but was in the chair at the American Diabetes Association's annual meeting when the study was presented.

She said the study was strong for several reasons, citing the length of time taken to follow actual participants, rather than using reviews of medical records.

The research was also well controlled for other risk factors that could influence people's likelihood of developing diabetic retinopathy, she said.

These include age, sex, blood sugar levels, smoking and drinking habits, weight, and physical activity.

The Japanese research team broke down the nutrients from fruit intake as fibre, vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene, potassium, and sodium.

However, they said the results might not necessarily apply to people who have a high fat diet, as most people in the study ate a low-fat diet.

Out of all the adults in the US with type 2 diabetes, almost 30% have developed diabetic retinopathy, and 4.4% have it to the point where they could go completely blind, according to figures from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

However, the findings have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, and should still be considered to be preliminary.

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