Nutrition and Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Nutrition and Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Konrad Filutowski, MD

Konrad Filutowski, MD

We have all heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.”  It turns out that you may “See what you eat.” The evidence is mounting that nutrition may play a vital role in preventing eye disease, specifically Age-Related Macular Degeneration.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration is a breakdown of the central part of the retina that occurs frequently as the eye ages. Data from the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) suggests that participants whose diets were rich in certain nutrients had a decreased risk of ARMD.  These nutrients include Vitamins C and E, the minerals Zinc and Selenium, as well as other natural compounds such as lutein and omega-3 fatty acids. The list of other potential nutrients is long, varied and controversial. Your eye doctor, along with your medical doctor, will frequently suggest the use of a multivitamin supplement in the face of ARMD or simply as a patient gets older.  Check with your medical doctor before starting any high dose supplement, however, especially if you are a smoker. Smoking remains the single biggest risk factor for the development of ARMD and is thought responsible for other eye disorders like cataract and vascular retinal disease.

Recent studies now suggest that a diet rich in foods with a low glycemic index, that is foods, that cause blood sugar to rise slowly, may protect against macular degeneration.  Low glycemic index foods include fruits, vegetables, beans, lean meats, and dairy. Excess consumption of high glycemic index foods, those that cause blood sugar to rise rapidly, may increase the risk of ARMD.  High glycemic index foods include desserts, refined foods, and sweetened beverages and juices. It is believed that a rapid rise in blood sugar, followed by a swift decline, may lead to damage of the macula and the blood vessels that support it.  This rapid cycle of blood sugar fluctuation has also been linked to diabetes and a myriad of other health problems.

With these thoughts in mind, the following foods may improve the health of your eyes and allow for better vision. Fruit tops the list.  The vibrant and colorful components of most fruits are the antioxidant compounds that protect the fruit seeds from sun damage. Berries of all kinds, cherries, grapes, citrus, kiwis, mangoes as well as tomatoes are rich in vitamin C.  Vegetables follow close behind, specifically the dark and leafy varieties. Kale, collards, spinach, broccoli, and cabbage are sources of vitamins and minerals. Think about the other colors of the rainbow as well: beets, carrots, and corn are colorful due to the antioxidant compounds that they contain.  Nuts are rich in omega-3’s as well as vitamin E and zinc. Cold water fish like tuna, sardines, herring, and salmon are also excellent sources of omega-3’s. Even small steps at improving diet may have large long-term effects on your vision later in life.

Originally posted on March 1, 2013

Updated in January 2024


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