Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a vision condition characterized by blurred or skewed vision, and it’s the most common cause of vision loss in Americans over age 60 – but the good news is, AMD isn’t inevitable. In fact, despite genetic variations between AMD patients, the right diet and supplements can make a big difference in whether an individual develops AMD and how quickly it progresses.
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The AREDS Approach
The most common approach to preventing or slowing AMD is a protocol known as AREDS, as it was developed under the aegis of the Age-Related Eye Disease Study. As described by the National Eye Institute, this supplement protocol includes high dose vitamins C and E, as well as beta-carotene and zinc. A later continuation of the study also showed that swapping lutein and zeaxanthin is a safe and effective alternative to beta-carotene, a key consideration as beta-carotene can increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers.
There is a group of individuals, about 13%, whose different genetic profile means that the zinc levels in the traditional AREDS formulation can actually increase the risk of AMD – but this group still has plenty of options. Besides dropping the excess zinc, sticking to a Mediterranean-style diet can have protective qualities.
The Mediterranean diet is typically associated with heart health because it focuses on vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, but when it comes to eye health, as with so many health issues, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is ultimately what’s most important. All those colors are a strong indicator that your diet is rich in antioxidants.
While many of the strategies for preventing AMD have to do with nutrition, one of the biggest preventable risk factors for the disease is smoking, and this is true for both wet and dry macular degeneration. Essentially the same condition, wet AMD is less common but typically more severe and involves blood vessels leaking behind the eye. Dry AMD involves no such leaking vessels; rather, it involves waste products from the eye accumulating on the retina. This version accounts for 80-90% of cases – and it’s especially common in smokers.
So what does smoking have to do with all this? Smoking has a detrimental impact on cardiovascular health and can narrow and weaken the blood vessels including those in the eye. As such, it’s harder for the blood vessels to oxygenate the eye, and for the body to clear waste from the eye. Even former smokers who have since quit are about four times more likely to develop AMD than their peers who have never smoked.
As with so many other elements of our health, our daily habits reach into every facet of our lives, but with a condition like macular degeneration, which is so common, it’s even more important to be sure you’re not putting yourself at risk. Most people will experience some vision loss later in life, but it doesn’t have to be as severe as AMD. Be proactive and protect your vision – this will give you the best chance to stay independent as you age.
Featured image source: Freepik