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Protect Your Sight from Macular Degeneration

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Preventing Age-Related Macular Degeneration

The things that are recommended to reduce the risk of AMD or to prevent dry AMD from worsening or from turning into wet AMD are, for the most part, the same things a cardiologist or family physician would recommend to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer and promote general health. 

This starts with a great diet comprised mainly of fruits (especially berries), vegetables (particularly dark, leafy greens), whole grains and other high-fiber foods, fish and nuts; little saturated fats and high-calorie, processed carbohydrates (such as pastries, crackers, chips and other baked goods); and one where unsweetened green tea and water are the refreshments of choice.

This type of diet will help protect against AMD in two ways. First, it will help you maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese increases the risk for AMD. Secondly, it will help increase your intake of lutein, a carotenoid of great importance to macular health that can only be gotten through the foods you eat (the body cannot make lutein). Dark, leafy greens such as spinach, kale, mustard greens, collard greens and broccoli are good sources of lutein. It is thought that lutein protects the macula by absorbing damaging blue and ultraviolet light that enters the eye, in a sense, acting as “sunglasses” for this part of the eye. 

In addition, if you smoke, I urge you to quit. Smoking or using tobacco and nicotine products is one of the worst things you can do to your eyes. It more than doubles the risk for AMD and increases the risk of dry AMD worsening or progressing to wet AMD. If you are serious about protecting your health and vision, you must stop smoking completely. Trying to smoke “a little” is like trying to be “a little” pregnant. It just doesn’t work. 

AMD is related to skin pigmentation and sun exposure. In general the darker the skin and iris color (such as dark brown eyes), the lower the risk for AMD; the lighter the complexion (for example, those who sunburn easily) and those with blue, gray or green iris color, the higher the risk of AMD. To protect against sun exposure, wear a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses that block UV and infrared light, and make sure to use a sun block with SPF 30 or 45 on your face and any other exposed skin. 

 

Supplements to Protect Against Advanced AMD

Certain supplements can slow the progression of dry AMD. This was demonstrated in the National Eye Institute’s Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) in which a specific supplemental dose formulation of zinc, copper and the antioxidant vitamins A, C and E, were shown to significantly reduce the risk of advanced AMD and its associated vision loss. 

A new study called AREDS 2 is underway which will test a new formulation of the supplement (lutein and omega-3s have been added and vitamin A has been removed) to see if it can prevent AMD. (Prevention of advanced AMD was not tested in the previous study.) Results from the AREDS 2 study will not be available for several more years. But note, the AREDS formulation is not a cure for the disease: it will not restore vision already lost from AMD.

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