Macular Degeneration // What to eat against it?

During my opthtalmology internship, I learned a lot about Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD). It is a common eye condition among elderly and one of the leading causes of poor eyesight in the Western world. The prevalence of AMD is 20 to 35% between the ages of 65 and 84. There are no optimal treatments for AMD, so the prevention of AMD is very important.

A healthy macula is essential for good vision.  The whole retina of the eye helps us see, but the macula is really where the magic happens. The macula is an amazing structure inside the eye with which we can see the best, it is like the headquarters of the retina. It contains yellow pigments, lutein and zeaxanthin, which protect it from damage due to their antioxidant functions.  When these antioxidants are outnumbered, the macula starts degenerating and vision starts to decrease. Some people have a genetic predisposition for developing AMD (multiple people in their family have AMD) – this is an additional reason to take good care of the macula. How?

AMD WYSK anatomy image
The macula is a structure inside the  eye with which we can see the best. Image from National Eye Institute .

During my ophthalmology internship I spotted a leaflet about supplements against AMD. If your ophthalmologist diagnoses you with AMD, he or she might suggest taking the following supplements: vitamin C (500mg), vitamin E (400 IU), beta-carotene (15 mg) and zinc oxide/copper oxide (80mg/2 mg). Taking these supplements has been shown to decrease the risk of AMD progression by 25%. If supplements help with AMD, why not eat foods that give you those nutrients naturally? Moreover, factors such as smoking, obesity, consumption of animal fats, and alcohol consumption, are implicated in both the risk of developing AMD and the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. By readjusting your habits you can feed two birds with one scone, so read on for some fresh & positive changes in your life!

Prevention and treatment of AMD: DON’TS

1. Don’t smoke
Before I turn to information about nutrition, if you are a smoker trying to prevent or manage AMD, you should know that smoking is strongly correlated with AMD. Smokers are five times more likely to develop AMD than non-smokers. If you are even slightly motivated to stop or worried about your health, visit your general practitioner for professional advice on how to effectively stop smoking. You’ll be taking a tremendous step in the right direction!

2. Don’t eat read meat products on a daily basis
According to an article published this year in Biomedical Research International (a peer reviewed journal), daily red meat intake is a great risk factor for developing AMD. Obesity was also a risk factor, to a lesser degree. This means that neither being overweight nor consuming red meat daily are benefitial, but if you can stop consuming red meat products on a daily basis, you are already doing your health a favour! Eating more vegetarian meals shouldn’t be a problem if you visit the Light Meals, Soups & Salads and Satisfying Comfort Foods section or look up vegetarian recipes elsewhere. One last thing, the study also found that consuming fruits on a daily basis is a protective factor against AMD!

DO’S

1. Eat fruits
Eat 2 portions of fruits per day. Eat more local, seasonal and organic fruits, since these contain less chemicals and more vitamins. Eat more strawberries, bluberries, mangos, kiwis, bananas, apples and pears. Eat red grapes, pineapples, maracujas and oranges. Indulge in fruit salads, watermelons and papayas. Try exotic fruits you’ve never dared to try before! You can easily make sure you eat a wide variety of fruits by buying based on what’s on offer at your local organic supermarket. 🙂

Image from trendhunter.com

2. Eat (or drink) veggies
Eat 2 big portions of vegetables per day. Make lots of vegetables juices. Especially include more dark leafy greens in your diet. Eat more broccoli, kale, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and zucchini. Steam your green leafy vegetables instead of boiling them – this way you can consume more vitamins.  Don’t forget the squash, eggplants, cucumber and parsnip. Eat more orange and yellow pigmented veggies, such as carrots, bell peppers, red beets, sweet potatoes, and turnip, for more macula-supporting pigments. Consume freshly cooked corn for lots of healthy yellow pigments lutein and zeaxanthin. Eat your bell peppers raw for most vitamin C! Eat carrots cooked for most vitamin A! Whatever you do, eat more veggies and live by diversity is key.

Image from artsmoothie.wordpress.com

3. Exercise
A study published in 2014 shows that regular physical activity can help prevent AMD as well as slow AMD progression from early to late AMD. Regular physical activity (unfortunately the article is in Danish and I could not figure out how many hours per week this means) had the same benefitial effect as smoking cessation or dietary supplements.

4. Indulge in sea foods
The role of Omega-3 in AMD is controversial, so I would definitely not recommend buying Omega-3 supplements for protection against AMD. As for fish, farmed fish is far away from natural, free, wild-caught and healthy, while wild-caught fish can be very expensive at health food stores. So, I wouldn’t recommend those either. But, if you find yourself on the coast, where wild-caught fish is the most normal meal of the day, make sure to treat yourself to one. Or, find a reliable fishers market to indulge in wild-caught fish like mackerel or herring on a regular basis at an affordable price. Fatty fish is good for your blood vessels, your brain and your heart, and can also contribute to prevention of AMD.

Shopping basket with fruits and vegetables
Image from kitchencoutureblog.com

As for supplements, I spoke to one of the ophthalmologist, and she said she uses Solgar’s Vision Guard supplements. I am in no way sponsored by Solgar, but if you are going to buy supplements, it’s better to buy the right ones than to waste your money on junk! Here’s the link: Solgar’s Vision Guard supplements.

Fore more thorough information on Nutrition and Age-related Macular Degeneration, read on here.

Adopt these new do’s and don’t in your life, and live happily every day knowing you are taking good care of yourself and your eye sight :).

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