OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- There's a new reason to "go green" in your diet. Research finds eating more green, leafy vegetables lowers the chances of developing glaucoma, a disease that silently steals sight.
Judy Gurling's father had it, so she knew she was at risk.
"I continued going to my own eye doctor, and he was aware of it and he noticed I was creeping up in pressure," Gurling said.
She was diagnosed with glaucoma. Half the people who have it don't know it because glaucoma can take away up to 40 percent of a person's vision without them noticing.
By the time the blind spots in peripheral vision are noticeable, "Turns out their pressure is three times normal and half of their optic nerve is already gone in that particular eye," Dr. Michael Stiles, an ophthalmologist in Overland Park, said.
It's why Dr. Stiles says annual eye exams are important in catching glaucoma early.
It may also be important to eat green leafy vegetables such as lettuce and spinach. Those foods are rich in nitrate. A new study looked at more than 100,000 adults 40 and older. Those who ate the most green leafy vegetables, a cup and a half a day, were 20 to 30 percent less likely to develop glaucoma than those who ate the least. The study didn't look into why, but Dr. Stiles says nitrate helps circulation.
"These nutrients improve blood flow to the back of the eye in general, we feel, and that's where we think the advantages come from," he said.
In spite of glaucoma, Gurling can still do her crossword puzzle.
"I can do my needlepoint, read to my grandchildren," she said.
With medication and surgery, her vision is good. But she knows prevention would be better, so the grandmother says to eat those salads.
"It certainly isn't going to hurt and it very likely will help," Gurling said.
She says it could help others avoid a common thief of sight.
The research is published in JAMA Ophthalmology. The authors say the results, if confirmed in more studies, have important public health implications.