I can’t count the number of times I have been asked by patients if carrots really can improve their eyesight. I think most people are looking for carrots to be a magical ‘cure’ for their refractive error. They want to eliminate their need for glasses and want carrots to make them have perfect 20/20 vision. While proper nutrition is necessary to maintain healthy eyes and can even help slow the progression of certain eye conditions and illnesses such as cataracts and macular degeneration, consuming a certain type of food can not ‘cure’ your need for glasses. HOWEVER, in recent studies it has been shown that what you eat CAN affect the sharpness of your vision! Say what, Dr. Murphy? Let me explain.
A study was recently conducted at the University of Reading where they measured the visual awareness and detection skills of 30 healthy young subjects two hours after they consumed either dark chocolate (which contains antioxidants called Cocoa Flavanols or CFs) or white chocolate (since white chocolate does not contain CF, this acted as a placebo).
*Yum! Chocolate!* Where do I sign up for this experiment again? Whoops, sorry. Back to the blog.
All kidding aside, the study set out to examine the effects of cocoa flavanols on vision and cognition. The experiment went like this, the 30 people were divided into two groups. One group consumed dark chocolate, the other consumed white. Then they were given a series of tests two hours later, when the CFs would have been releasing their physiological effects on the body. The tests given measured the subjects’ visual contrast sensitivity, motion sensitivity and direction detection and cognitive performance through visual spatial memory and a choice reaction cognitive task. They recorded the results and then a week later, they actually did the same experiment again with the same 30 subjects with one difference, they swapped sides! The white chocolate subjects now consumed dark chocolate and vice versa.
What they found, both weeks, was an improvement in visual and cognitive performances of the subjects who consumed the dark chocolate. The subjects who consumed the white chocolate had no real enhancement in their testing performance. This demonstrated that CFs really can temporarily improve your vision and cognition skills in as little as two hours, the effects of which are temporary. Researchers think that CFs increase blood flow to the eyes and brain and that this is what leads to enhanced functioning of those structures. They state that, “the results of the current study demonstrate for the first time that performance on tests of visual system function in healthy young adults can be improved by the acute consumption of CF.” (source)
More studies need to be done in this area to find out what this all means and how we could benefit from this knowledge but oh what fun that research will be! MMmmmm! =)
Now I am not saying dark chocolate is better for you than carrots. I am not saying to eat dark chocolate everyday and substitute it for fruits and vegetables or your regular meal. I am not even saying that dark chocolate will cause improvements to your vision that you yourself will notice. I am bringing up this topic just to remind you that what you eat affects your body, sometimes in ways we haven’t even learned yet. So stick to a healthy, well-balanced diet. And a little indulgence consisting of a small amount of dark chocolate as a dessert every now and then is probably a very good thing.