European Research Council-funded Waterford research breakthrough offers prospect of further improved vision among those with healthy eyesight

Major potential implications for motorists, train drivers, pilots and sportspeople

Irish-based research published today (Thurs, June 30) in the international journal, Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science (IOVS), holds out the prospect of even sharper  vision for those who already have good eyesight. 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 over a year.

The results of this study have important implications for those who rely on their vision for professional reasons, such as high-performance sportspeople (most obviously golfers, hurlers, cricketers, tennis and baseball players), motorists, train drivers, pilots, police and military marksmen and those involved in quality control. The study – entitled CREST (Central Retinal Enrichment Supplementation Trials) – was conducted by the Macular Pigment Research Group at Nutrition Research Centre Ireland (NRCI). NRCI is based at Carriganore House in Waterford, and is part of the School of Health Sciences at Waterford Institute of Technology.

The first rigidly-designed study of its kind, the work was funded by the European Research Council and involved 105 volunteers undergoing complex tests of vision over a 12-month period. 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).

Prof John Nolan, Principal Investigator for the CREST study and founder of the Nutrition Research Centre Ireland, said: “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 of moving 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.”

Prof Stephen Beatty, a director of NRCI, added 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.”