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A new study that tracked people more than 20 years found that a diet high in carotenoids - found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables (such as carrots, orange peppers, spinach, broccoli) - is linked to lower levels of macular degenaration (an age linked vision ailment). Note that the link is found with real foods and not supplements (the researchers did not look at supplements). From Medical Xpress:

Carrots do help aging eyes, study shows

Your parents may have told you, "Eat your carrots, they're good for your eyes," and a new study suggests they were on to something. Pigments called carotenoids—which give red or orange hues to carrots, sweet potatoes and orange peppers, or deep greens to produce like spinach, broccoli and kale—may help ward off the age-linked vision ailment known as macular degeneration, researchers said.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is one of the most common causes of vision loss, especially in the elderly. It affects the macula, the center part of the retina, and can lead to declines in sharp central vision and even blindness, experts say. Scientists have already linked a variety of factors to the condition including genetics, smoking and nutrition, said Bernstein, who was not involved in the new study. Prior research has produced mixed findings about links between carotenoids and macular degeneration, the researchers said. 

In the new study, Wu's team looked at data from health surveys that tracked people aged 50 and older—more than 63,000 women and almost 39,000 men—from 1984 or 1986 until 2010. Participants were all nurses and other health professionals. Overall, about 2.5 percent of study participants developed either intermediate or advanced forms of the eye condition during the years of the study.

Wu's team found that people who consumed the very highest levels of carotenoids known as lutein and zeaxanthin had a 40 percent lower risk of the advanced form of AMD compared to those who ate the very least. "Other carotenoids, including beta cryptoxanthin, alpha carotene and beta carotene, may also play protective roles," Wu added. People who consumed the very highest amount of these carotenoids—found in foods such as carrots and sweet potatohad a 25 to 35 percent lower risk of the advanced form of the illness, the findings showed.

Researchers did not find any link between the carotenoids and the intermediate form of macular degeneration, however. Lutein is found in eggs and dark leafy vegetables including broccoli, kale and spinach, Bernstein said. Zeaxanthin is harder to find in the diet, he said, but you can get it from corn, orange peppers and goji berries. Wu noted that both lutein and zeaxanthin concentrate in the macula, where they are thought to protect it from damage from oxygen and light.

Bernstein cautioned that the study has some weaknesses. It's based on people's recollections of their diets, he said, and doesn't examine the levels of the carotenoids that actually made it into their bodies and eyes. Still, he praised the research.... However, he said, a diet high in fruits and vegetables is important, especially colorful vegetables. Consume several servings a day, he advised.

There has been much discussion recently about breastfeeding - why is it so important? Is it really better than formula? The answer is: YES, breastfeeding is the BEST food for the baby, and for a number of reasons. Not only is it nature's perfect food for the baby, but it also helps the development of the baby's microbiome or microbiota (the community of microbes that live within and on humans). Specifically, breast milk transmits about 700 species of bacteria to the baby - bacteria that are important in developing the baby's microbiota, bacteria that are important for the baby's development and health in many ways (including the immune system). No formula does that. Not even close.

There is obviously much we don't know or understand yet, but finding 700 species in breast milk is a big deal. The most variety was in colostrum (the first milk), but even after 6 months (mature milk) they found hundreds of species of bacteria. What was also interesting was that the bacteria species in the breast milk varied whether the baby was born by vaginal birth, unplanned cesarean, or planned cesarean (this last had a somewhat different bacterial community which persisted through the 6 months of the study). By the way, in the original study, the authors made a point of saying that the 700 bacteria species are NOT bacterial contaminants, but meant to be there! (for those who want to sterilize and pasteurize everything because they think that all bacteria are bad).This study is from 2013, but well worth reading. From Science Daily:

Breast milk contains more than 700 species of bacteria, Spanish researchers find

Researchers have traced the bacterial microbiota map in breast milk and identified the species of microbes taken from breast milk by infants. The study has revealed a larger microbial diversity than originally thought: more than 700 species. The breast milk received from the mother is one of the factors determining how the bacterial flora will develop in the newborn baby.

A group of Spanish scientists have now used a technique based on massive DNA sequencing to identify the set of bacteria contained within breast milk called microbiome.  Colostrum is the first secretion of the mammary glands after giving birth. In some of the samples taken of this liquid, more than 700 species of these microorganisms were found, which is more than originally expected by experts.

"This is one of the first studies to document such diversity using the pyrosequencing technique (a large scale DNA sequencing determination technique) on colostrum samples on the one hand, and breast milk on the other, the latter being collected after one and six months of breastfeeding," explain the coauthors, María Carmen Collado, researcher at the Institute of Agrochemistry and Food Technology (IATA-CSIC) and Alex Mira, researcher at the Higher Public Health Research Centre (CSISP-GVA).

The most common bacterial genera in the colostrum samples were Weissella, Leuconostoc, Staphylococcus, Streptococcus and Lactococcus. In the fluid developed between the first and sixth month of breastfeeding, bacteria typical of the oral cavity were observed, such as Veillonella, Leptotrichia and Prevotella....The study also reveals that the milk of overweight mothers or those who put on more weight than recommended during pregnancy contains a lesser diversity of species.

The type of labour also affects the microbiome within the breast milk: that of mothers who underwent a planned caesarean is different and not as rich in microorganisms as that of mothers who had a vaginal birth. However, when the caesarean is unplanned (intrapartum), milk composition is very similar to that of mothers who have a vaginal birth.

These results suggest that the hormonal state of the mother at the time of labour also plays a role: "The lack of signals of physiological stress, as well as hormonal signals specific to labour, could influence the microbial composition and diversity of breast milk," state the authors.

And yes, what you eat while breastfeeding has an effect on the breast milk. From Science Daily:  Carotenoid levels in breast milk vary by country, diet

A Purdue University-led analysis of breast milk concludes that levels of health-promoting compounds known as carotenoids differ by country, with the U.S. lagging behind China and Mexico, a reflection of regional dietary habitsCarotenoids are plant pigments that potentially play functional roles in human development and are key sources of vitamin A, an essential component of eye health and the immune system.The carotenoid content of a woman's breast milk is determined by her consumption of fruits and vegetables such as squash, citrus, sweet potatoes and dark, leafy greens.

Good news for those people who enjoy drinking a glass of orange juice each day. From NPR News:

What's More Nutritious, Orange Juice Or An Orange? It's Complicated

We all could probably eat more fruits and vegetables. But if forced to choose between whole fruit or a glass of juice, which one seems more healthful? The general advice is to opt for the fruit, since juices are stripped of the fiber – which most us don't get enough of — in whole fruit. And let's face it: Most juice contains a lot of sugar, which most of us consume too much of.

So our interest was piqued when we spotted a study suggesting that, when it comes to oranges, juice might actually unlock more carotenoids and flavonoids – both beneficial phytonutrients — than an equivalent amount of fruit.

To figure that out, German and Saudi researchers started with a big batch of fresh navel oranges. They analyzed the fruit in three forms: peeled segments, a mashed-up puree and as juice, both fresh-squeezed and pasteurized. They found that levels of vitamin C and carotenoids were basically the same in the juice and the unprocessed fruit, while levels of flavonoids were significantly lower.

But then the scientists threw their orange test foods into in a test tube model designed to mimic digestion, and that's when things got interesting: Much more of the carotenoids and flavonoids were released from the orange juice than from the fruit slices or mush. The differences were striking: Carotenoid release went up from nearly 11 percent in the fruit to 28 percent in the fresh juice, and up to 39.5 percent in the pasteurized juice. Meanwhile, flavonoids were boosted nearly five-fold in juice compared to fruit.

The findings, which appear in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, are scientifically intriguing. For example, the researchers suspect heat may have something to do with the extra carotenoids released in pasteurized juice....That said, the new study "is in line with other studies that have found that nutrients in some fruits and vegetables are more bioavailable when the produce is chopped, mashed, juiced or prepared with oils," Blumberg notes in an email to The Salt.

Indeed, there's a whole avenue of research that is challenging our understanding of how to unleash the nutrition fixed inside fruits and veggies. For instance, as we've reported, we get more beta-carotene from tomatoes when we add a little fat like olive oil, and gently cooking carrots can coax them to release more nutrients. And while cooking broccoli for too long can destroy its antioxidants, chopping it is ideal.

An excellent reason to listen to your mother and eat your vegetables. From the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services site healthfinder.gov:

Vegetables in Childhood May Benefit Breast Health

Girls who ate the most fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids were less likely to get benign breast disease, a new study suggests.

Carotenoids are a group of pigments that typically produce an orange, red or dark green color. They are believed to have antioxidant properties that may guard against disease. Benign breast disease describes a variety of noncancerous conditions of the breast; some forms raise the risk of breast cancer. 

For her study, Boeke and her colleagues looked at food reports from 1996 through 1998 and then evaluated reports in 2005, 2007 and 2010 from girls who got a diagnosis of benign breast disease from a doctor after having a biopsy. In all, Boeke studied nearly 6,600 girls, and 122 reported a diagnosis of benign breast disease.

When she looked at carotenoid intake, she found high intakes were protective. "The odds of benign breast disease in those who consumed the most beta carotene were about half that of those who consumed the least," she said. Girls in the highest intake group ate two to three servings of carotenoid-rich foods weekly, she said.

She did take into account other factors that might affect the risk of benign breast disease, such as alcohol intake, physical activity, family history and body mass index (a measure of body fat using height and weight).

Why might the fruits and vegetables help? It's not known for sure, but Boeke said it may be due partly to their antioxidant properties. Carotenoids absorb harmful substances known as free radicals which can harm cells.

The study looked only at food intake, not supplements, and Boeke said she would not recommend supplements since other research has found some harmful effects with supplement use. Other foods that are rich in carotenoids include yams, melons, spinach and kale.

The period of time between the start of a girl's period and the first birth is a sensitive one for the breasts, as they are very vulnerable to environmental exposures, according to background information in the study.