Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

June 11, 2003

Prof hoping ‘flower power' improves eye health, produces better eggs

A University of Guelph professor is studying whether feeding chickens a pigment that is found naturally in the petals of marigolds can improve human eye health.

Steve Leeson of the Department of Animal and Poultry Science says adding pure lutein – one of the pigments that give egg yolk its yellow-orange colour – to chicken feed may produce eggs with higher levels of lutein. At high levels, such as four to six milligrams a day, lutein helps prevent cataracts and macular degeneration — permanent physical damage to the central vision portion of the eye — which affects 30 per cent of people over 60. Currently, the average daily lutein intake sits at around half a milligram a day.

"Lutein is found naturally in spinach and most potently in the petals of marigolds," Leeson said. "If we can significantly improve the lutein content in eggs, it would be easier for Canadians to naturally consume their recommended daily intake." The average Canadian consumes 200 eggs a year, including those added to recipes of processed and prepared foods. Currently, eggs contain less than one milligram of lutein.

Ultimately, Leeson, whose current work is a continuation of previous nutrition research with nutritional sciences professor Bruce Holub, hopes to combine his research findings into a super egg. "Eventually, we'll produce an egg that is enriched with lutein, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and flax omega-3s." Omega-3s are fats that are recognized by Health Canada as heart-healthy compounds and also play an important role in mental health and visual functions. Omega-3 eggs, which are products of chickens fed feed containing flaxseed, hit store shelves in 1996. They now account for five per cent of Canada's egg market and four per cent of eggs sold in the United States. Omega-3s in flax are converted in the body to DHA, which Leeson says is "the best of the omega-3s."

"If we can put the nutrients people need in the food they eat, we'll have a healthier population," he said. His research is sponsored by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Canadian Egg Marketing Agency, Egg Producers of Ontario and Roche.

Prof. Steve Leeson
Department of Animal and Poultry Science
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 53681

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338 or Rachelle Cooper, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982.

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