Staying Healthy Newsletter - Zinc & Eye Health, Berries & Tomatoes for the Heart
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Zinc & Eye Health, Berries & Tomatoes for the Heart

Zinc Has Many Functions in the Body

Zinc is found in all parts of the body, and plays a vital role in many aspects of health. Getting an adequate amount of zinc is important for children to grow and develop, for example, and it’s needed for nerves to function properly. Among all the vitamins and minerals, zinc shows the strongest effect on our all-important immune system.

As the results of the 1st Age-related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) revealed in 2001, zinc is also very important in reducing the risk that age-related macular degeneration (AMD) will progress in people with the disease. Zinc is believed to play a role in the development of AMD for several reasons. First, zinc is highly concentrated in the part of the eye’s retina affected by AMD. Additionally, both the level of zinc and the activity of key zinc-requiring enzymes in the retina have been shown to decline with age.

Zinc’s Role in Eye Health Has Ancient Origins

While the benefits of zinc to the eye’s retina came to the forefront with publication of the AREDS trial, it appears that the role of this mineral in ocular health is rooted in history.

Italian researchers recently analyzed zinc supplement tablets that were uncovered in a 2000 year-old shipwreck off the coast of Tuscany (1). The supplements were found in the Pozzino, a ship that sank in the 2nd century B.C., and were preserved underwater in oxygen-free metal tins.

The research team believes that the supplements were used to treat eye problems, since the tablets are similar in shape and composition to those described in ancient texts discussing the medicinal use of zinc. Some of these texts date back as far as 300 B.C.

As we await results of the AREDS 2 trial now in progress, these intriguing findings shed light on the continuity of zinc use from ancient to modern times.

Higher Lycopene Intake May Reduce CVD Risk

A new study from Tufts and Boston University reports a link between intake of lycopene in the diet and the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) and coronary heart disease (CHD) (2).

Lycopene is a carotenoid found in red and pink-colored fruits and vegetables. However, tomatoes and tomato-based products (e.g. ketchup and tomato sauce) are by far the most important dietary sources of this antioxidant.

The findings, which were based on data from the Framingham Offspring Study, showed that people consuming the most lycopene reduced their risk of developing CVD by 17%, and were 26% less likely to develop CHD.

The average intake of lycopene was 7.9 mg. among the women. One fresh tomato contains about 4 mg, and 1 cup of tomato sauce provides about 25 mg.

Berries May Support Women’s Heart Health

Women who eat three or more weekly servings of blueberries and strawberries could be helping their hearts according to a new study from Harvard (3).

The Harvard team looked at data from 93,600 women aged 25-42 who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study II. Eating the highest amounts of these two berries was associated with a 1/3 reduction in risk of heart attack. This observation held up even among women who ate a diet rich in other fruits and vegetables.

What is it about these berries that could protect against heart attacks? They’re a rich source of flavonoid substances, called anthocyanins, which have been linked to reduced blood vessel hardening and reductions in markers of inflammation – risk factors for heart disease.


  1. Giachi G, et al. Ingredients of a 2000-year-old medicine revealed by chemical, mineralogical and botanical investigations. PNAS; ePub ahead of print Jan. 7, 2013.
  2. Jacques PF, et al. Relationship of lycopene intake and consumption of tomato products to incident CVD. Br J Nutr EPub ahead of print Jan. 15, 2013
  3. Cassidy A, et al. High anthocyanin intake is associated with a reduced risk of myocardial infarction in you and middle-aged women. Circulation 127:188-96, 2013.
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