The Correlation Between Nutrition and AMD
Age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, affects more than 2 million Americans. This progressive condition poses one of the largest threats to adults’ vision-in people over 50 years of age, AMD serves as the leading cause of blindness and vision loss.
AMD frequently develops as a result of specific lifestyle types. People who smoke, become obese, or eat a nutritionally deficient diet risk developing AMD and other lifestyle-based eye conditions. In this blog, we expound on the correlation between the food you eat and the development of AMD.
What you eat doesn’t just impact your weight and heart health. The nutrients in your food contribute to or take away from the health of other body parts and systems as well.
Research links these foods to improved and maintained eye health, which can prevent AMD progression.
- Berries: When your body processes oxygen too quickly, it creates molecules called free radicals. These molecules damage healthy cells, creating the ideal environment for conditions like AMD to develop. Antioxidants combat free radicals by preventing cell damage, even after it’s already started. Berries, especially blueberries, have high antioxidant levels.
- Cold water fish: Cold water fish, like salmon, contains chemicals known as omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids improve circulation to the eyes and heart, which decreases the risk of health conditions in those parts of the body. Multiple studies show direct correlation with eating fish and decreasing the risk of AMD. One study, conducted by Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, reported that men over 50 who had fish two or more times each week were 45% less likely to develop AMD.
- Fruit: Fruit colors manifest based on chemical makeup. Medical professionals call the chemicals found in brightly colored fruits, like kiwi and red grapes, carotenoids. Carotenoids actively build and maintain retinal tissue, strengthening your eyes.
- Leafy greens: You’ll find the highest concentration of carotenoids in leafy green vegetables. Enhance your diet with kale, collard greens, and spinach.
People with diets high in fats have increased risk of AMD. Limit your intake of the following fat types, or avoid them completely.
- Monounsaturated fats: Found in olive, peanut, and canola oil, monounsaturated fats pose the smallest threat. In moderate portions, these fats can actually balance cholesterol. However, in excess, these fats decrease circulation and pave the way for AMD.
- Polyunsaturated fats: Like monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats can improve heart health if used in moderation. You’ll find these fats in soybean, corn, and sunflower oil.
- Vegetable fats: This category encompasses several types of fats, including trans fats. Avoid the trans fat found in fried foods, pastry crust, and shortening.
Vitamin and mineral supplements can fill gaps in your nutrition to protect your eye health.
Research links these supplements with slowed AMD progression and decreased risk of AMD development.
- Lutein: Carotenoids (the chemicals in colorful fruits and vegetables) fall into several categories, including the vitamin lutein. Lutein functions as a filter, protecting your eye the way sunscreen protects your skin.
- Omega-3: You can benefit from omega-3 fatty acids even if you don’t eat fish frequently. Fish oil and omega-3 supplements affect the body like cold water fish: reducing inflammation and improving blood flow.
- Zeaxanthin: Medical professionals often pair zeaxanthin and lutein since they appear together in foods like kale and turnip greens. This carotenoid protects the eye by absorbing harmful light frequencies and reducing glare. Used together, lutein and zeaxanthin reduce the risk of AMD by 57%.
- Zinc: Zinc also falls under the category of antioxidants. Zinc eliminates heavy metals from the body and targets free radicals for neutralization. AREDS1, a study published in 2001, showed a 25% AMD risk reduction for patients who took an 80mg zinc supplement daily.
When used appropriately, nutrient supplements improve health overall. However, supplement regimens present some risks if used in the following ways.
- In excess: While most supplements pose no health risk, some pose dangerous side effects. For instance, about 7.5% of AREDS participants who took zinc developed a urinary tract infection. Some supplements can also cause mild skin discoloration or anemia when taken in excess.
- Without medical oversight: Consult with your ophthalmologist or optometrist and primary care physician before beginning a new supplement regimen. They can pinpoint the correct dosage according to your health, weight, age, and smoking status. They also provide a monitoring system to catch any problems as they arise.
Nutrition plays a huge role in the prevention and control of AMD and similar ocular conditions.
If you are at risk for AMD or if you experience any AMD symptoms, contact your ophthalmologist or optometrist for immediate testing. Medical research has yet to find a cure for this condition, but the earlier you begin treatment, the better your results. To learn more about AMD risk factors, symptoms, and treatment, visit our age-related macular degeneration page.