Eyeing Dietary Changes to Stave Off Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Patient Expert

As we age, we tend to value our physical capabilities more, realizing what a blessing they are to living life. And we begin to begin concerned that some maladies can steal these capabilities, sometimes without our knowledge. One of these maladies is age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This disease occurs in more than six of every 100 Americans who are 40 years old and above and also is responsible for half of all cases of blindness in developed countries, according to Kerry Grens of Reuter's Health.

According to the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) "is a disease associated with aging that gradually destroys sharp, central vision. Central vision is needed for seeing objects clearly and for common daily tasks such as reading and driving. AMD affects the macula, the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail. AMD causes no pain." There are two types of macular degeneration - dry AMD and wet AMD.   The most common early symptom for dry AMD is blurred vision that makes it difficult to see details, such as words in a publication, in front of them. These issues may go away in brighter light; however, if a person loses too many light-sensing cells, he or she may experience a small, but growing, blind spot in their vision. People who have wet AMD may experience an early symptom of having straight lines appear crooked. This is caused by fluid from leaking blood vessels gathering and lifting the macula and, thus, distorting vision. People with wet AMD also may develop a small blind spot that results in loss of central vision.

The National Eye Institute reported, "Although AMD may occur during middle age, studies show that people over age 60 are clearly at greater risk than other age groups. For instance, a large study found that people in middle-age have about a 2 percent risk of getting AMD, but this risk increased to nearly 30 percent in those over age 75."   Risk factors include smoking, obesity, race, family history, and gender.

However, some recent good news was announced that researchers may have found that diet can help slow AMD in people with a genetic susceptibility to the disease.   Grens reported that Netherlands researchers reviewed the eating habits of more than 2,000 participants, age 55 and older. All of the participants were tested for the macular degeneration susceptibility genes (CHF, which increase the odds of AMD up to 11 times, and LOC387715S, which increase chances by up to 15 times) and had eye exams every three years over a 10-year period to evaluate vision loss. The researchers found that those who ate increased levels of zinc, antioxidants or omega-3 fatty acids decreased their risk of developing this disease, which results in vision loss caused by erosion of the retina, by a third, as compared with student participants who ate lower levels of these nutrients. "Among people with the CFH variation, greater amounts of either zinc, beta carotene, omega-3 fatty acids or lutein/zeaxanthin in the diet was linked to a smaller risk of macular degeneration," Grens wrote. "For those who had the LOC387715S variation, reduced risk of vision loss was seen among people who ate greater amounts of zinc or omega-3 fats."

So what are dietary sources of these nutrients?

  • Zinc - The Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institute of Health recommends oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, certain types of seafood (crab and lobster), whole grains, fortified breakfast cereals, and dairy products.
  • Antioxidants - The Mayo Clinic recommends berries, beans, fruits, artichokes, spinach, red cabbage, red and white potatoes with peel, sweet potatoes, broccoli, green tea, coffee, red wine, pomegranate juice, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, ground cloves, cinnamon, ginger, dried oregano, turmeric powder, oat-based products, and dark chocolate.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids - Dr. Frank Sacks, professor of cardiovascular disease prevention in the Department of Nutrition in Harvard School of Public Health suggests fatty fish, soybean oil, canola oil, flaxseed oil,   walnuts, Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, and salad greens.
  • Beta carotene - The Office of Dietary Supplements recommends carrot juice, carrots, spinach, kale, vegetable soup, cantaloupe, apricots, apricot nectar, papaya, mango, fortified oatmeal, peas, tomato juice, peaches, and sweet red peppers.
  • Lutein/Zeaxanthin - PubMed.gov, which is the website or the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, reports on a study that recommends egg yolks, maize , kiwi fruit, grapes, spinach, orange juice, zucchini, orange peppers, and squash.