About The Project
About The Project
The project, ‘Eating for Eye Health’, was the brainchild of Dr Rosie Gilbert, clinical fellow in ophthalmology, whose balances clinical work at Moorfields Eye Hospital with laboratory research at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, where she is undertaking her PhD. The initiative won the ‘Individual-led projects’ category in the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) ENGAGE 2016 Competition and more recently it also won the 'student award' at the UCL Provost's Awards for Public Engagement.
‘Eating for Eye Health’ was designed as a fully interactive event, giving patients with dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD) not only the opportunity to learn about how diet can affect their eye health, but also giving them the chance to participate in a day’s group cookery project, alongside other patients, to help improve confidence with preparing nutritious recipes at home.
Eating for Eye Health from NIHR Moorfields BRC on Vimeo.
More information about Eating for Eye Health can be found on the project's official webpage.
Positive support for patients
For Rosie Gilbert, the objective was to enable patients to find a way to help themselves and bring them together in a social environment. “As a doctor working in eye clinics, macular degeneration is a large part of my workload. Junior doctors are counseled to just give patients lifestyle advice and discharge them,” she says.
“But this is a double blow for patients – their opticians send them to us but we then have to tell them that we can’t do anything about their progressive condition and we can’t give them another appointment. I find it really hard to break this diagnosis to patients.”
Spurred on by her strong desire to give patients some positive information, and inspired by partaking the UCL Train and Engage course – which provides public engagement training and the opportunity to apply for project grants – Rosie had a light bulb moment.
She explains: “I’d noticed that so many patients ask about diet and I thought it would be great to get a number of patients together and talk to them about how different foods could benefit. This would give people a sense of control over their own health and a sense of community.
“My idea was to combine the science and nutritional side with a community aspect – to get people cooking and eating together. Macular degeneration can lead to social isolation and loss of self-esteem, so having the opportunity to talk to other people in the same position can help.”
Carefully created recipes
With a £2,000 Beacon Bursary from UCL Culture, Rosie began her endeavor with a focus group of 12 patients at a nearby restaurant. “This allowed me to find out more about patients’ eating habits and their awareness. A consultant and nutritionist gave talks and when I asked participants if they would like a cookery day, all said ‘yes’”.
After finding a fully equipped venue within her budget, Rosie, along with a qualified nutrionalist, devised recipes for a delicious three-course meal that included butternut squash, salmon, sweet potato, watercress and blackcurrant. Additional ingredients such as turmeric, sesame dressing and brazil nuts further boosted nutritional benefits.
“Every ingredient was carefully chosen to add nutritional value and I also wanted recipes that people could easily reproduce at home,” says Rosie.
Feedback of the cookery session was positive all round. “The ENGAGE competition organisers said they were impressed that I’d managed to put this project together myself, although it was a team effort and my idea wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for all the people who joined in.
“Participants said they appreciated being involved and were glad that someone had taken an interest. As clinicians working in hospitals and universities I feel that we have a responsibility to take the interest of these patients and do everything we can to make a positive difference. That is what drives me.”
For Rosie, this won’t be a one-off. She says: “I’m aiming to expand ‘Eating for Eye Health’ with further events. It might be good to organise an event for younger people too, focusing on prevention. It’s good to educate people before we see the early signs. I’d like to reach out to as many people as possible.”
A number of recipes from the Community Cookery Day in November 2015 at St Luke's Community Centre can be downloaded by clicking on the links below:
1. Butternut Squash, Turmeric and Brazil Nut Soup.pdf
2. Baked Sweet Potato.pdf
3. Salmon Fillets with Ginger Red Onion and Pepper.pdf
4. Spinach Orange and Linseed Salad.pdf
5. Apple and Blackberrry Sponge Pudding.pdf
What is the evidence?
Nutrition and eye health: what is the evidence?
Some studies have looked at the link between antioxidant supplements and preventing or slowing down the progression of AMD. The biggest of these studies is one conducted in the USA called the National Eye Institute’s Age Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS). The study, which began in 2001, involved 3,640 people with AMD, aged between 55 and 80 years.
After five years, the study found that people with early AMD who took supplements containing high levels of antioxidants (vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene) and zinc reduced their risk of developing advanced AMD by 25%. The risk of moderate or severe vision loss was decreased by 19%, but the supplementation did not slow progression from early to intermediate AMD.
A second AREDS study undertaken between 2006 and 2012 – AREDS2 – confirmed the longer-term benefits of taking the supplements. It also supported the benefit of updating the original formula, replacing beta-carotene with lutein and zeaxanthin (there is an increased lung cancer risk in smokers and ex-smokers who take beta- carotene).
The big question now is, can we expect to see the same – or indeed better – results from consuming these same nutrients in the diet? As yet, there is no data to show how these benefits translate to foods in the diet – but this certainly does not suggest the benefits don’t exist.
As Rosie explains: “The trials simply haven’t been done yet – this is the next area to explore. We need to look at blood levels of antioxidants, as well as what is going on in the gut. We can now assess the density of pigment in the retina and this can be used to correlate with a person’s antioxidant levels.
“So we know there is a relationship between what we see in the retina and what is absorbed in the diet, but we need to design a clinical trial to get any actual data.
“In the first instance, it would be useful to explore this in vitro, in the laboratory, with a basic science research study. If you add antioxidants to the retina, what is the effect? This is a very interesting area and I am excited to find out much more about nutrition and eye health.”