Age-related Macular Degeneration

Leading Cause of Blindness
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in persons over age 55 – it is an incurable eye disease that causes progressive visual loss as a result of degeneration of the macula. The macula is the portion of the retina responsible for our fine central vision; it receives visual information that is sent to the brain. A damaged macula leaves us unable to distinguish detail and causes localized areas of central vision loss. Although peripheral vision remains intact, things that we take for granted like reading, recognizing faces, and driving are just a few of the tasks that become difficult.

No Known Cure
Even more disheartening is the fact that there is no known cure for AMD and no clear understanding of its cause. Some of the most exciting research related to macular degeneration has been in the area of nutrition and has suggested that certain antioxidants including lutein and zeaxanthin may significantly reduce the risk of AMD.  The carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin are the main components of the macula’s luteal pigment that protects the retina by absorbing damaging ultraviolet light and neutralizing free radicals that can harm the eye. Studies have provided evidence that supplementation with lutein and zeaxanthin is associated with significant improvement in the density of the protective macular pigment.  The studies also demonstrated clinical benefits; those who took a 10 mg supplement of lutein every day over a year’s time began to see about one line better on eye charts.

What You Can Do
Manage known modifiable risk factors for AMD. Exercise and eat a healthful diet to prevent obesity, diabetes, elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure. Avoid sugary snack foods. Choose a diet low in saturated fats and high in fruits and vegetables. Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, plus broccoli, peas, squash, and egg yolk, corn, orange peppers, oranges and honeydew. Taking a supplement that contains appropriate amounts of antioxidants and lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin can help preserve vision.  The omega-3s also support eye health; in particular DHA, which accumulates in the eye, protecting nerve cells from damage. Shield your eyes from harmful ultraviolet light by wearing quality sunglasses.  Finally… that ubiquitous warning: STOP smoking.  Studies show that smokers have lower levels of lutein and are at much greater risk of developing AMD.  Even passive smoking doubles the risk of AMD.

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