Golden Rice Potential to Prevent Vision Loss

“Golden rice,” a genetically modified grain that incorporates beta-carotene, has recently shown to help “convert vitamin A” in humans. This finding suggests that golden rice could help prevent vision loss and blindness in people suffering from vitamin A deficiency, especially those in poor, heavily rice-consuming countries. Many poor countries also suffer from high cases of diabetes, which can result in vision loss due to retinopathy.

Vitamin A is an important molecule for visual perception. In fact, a part of vitamin A, the retinoids, or retinyl group, are directly related to light absorption in the retina (hence the name). Beta-carotene, which for example is responsible for the orange color of carrots, helps process vitamin A, and add to vitamin A levels in the human body. Vitamin A deficiency is a primary cause of vision loss and total blindness in many humans, especially in poorer countries like China and Vietnam, which are heavily reliant on rice.

Golden rice was created more than 10 years ago, and contains 35 micrograms of beta-carotene per gram of rice. By measuring retinol levels in the blood of test subjects being fed golden rice, it was found that “four units of beta-carotene from Golden Rice convert to one unit of vitamin A in humans,” according to researcher Dr. Michael Grusak.

Golden rice is not commercially available at present, and further testing must be preformed to ensure there are no undesired side effects. The hope, however, is that this genetically modified grain will help limit vision problems in poorer, rice reliant countries, as well as being a type of vision enhancing supplement for those in more privileged locations. Concludes Dr. Grusak, “by incorporating vitamin A into the major crop that is consumed, we would be able to make it accessible to the majority of people in the area.”

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Grusak, Michael. Pathak, Dipali. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition news release. May 2009.

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