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Can Diet and Vitamins Help? Print E-mail
Share Share You've been hearing a lot about vitamins to "reverse" macular degeneration or a diet that can prevent it. 

The truth is that although we know a great deal about what seems to be helpful, no one has the whole answer.  Beware of companies that claim to have a "cure" or a supplement to reverse macular degeneration.  There is no research to support this type of "miracle".

The good news is that valid scientific research DOES show that your diet can affect your eyes.  And, if you have macular degeneration, there is a proven supplement that may slow down the progression and the vision loss.

FACTS:

  • People who eat a diet high in vegetables and fruit have a lower incidence of age-related macular degeneration.  Dark green, leafy vegetables are particularly helpful.
  • People who eat fish three times a week have a lower incidence of macular degeneration.
  • People who eat a lot of saturated fats have a higher risk of AMD.

Eat Lots of Vegetables and Fruits

Antioxidants protect against oxidation, which is a part of the process of AMD.  Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, mustard greens and collard greens contain high levels of lutein, a critical antioxidant. Antioxidants are also present in fruits and vegetables with bright color, including red grapes, peppers, corn, oranges, cantaloupe and mango. Look for fresh produce in a variety of colors to get a wide range of vitamins in your diet.  We don't have all the answers, so eating a varied diet is wise.

Eat 5-9 servings a day. While this may sound like a lot, a serving is really only ½ cup of most foods or one cup of leafy greens.

Eat Fish

People who eat fish 2-3 times a week have a lower risk for AMD. Fish contain omega-3 which seems to be a critical nutrient for the heart and eyes. The best fish are either wild salmon or small fish like sardines. If you cannot tolerate fish or obtain it easily, an omega-3 supplement is another option. Fish oil capsules are widely available.

Limit Your Fat Intake

In reviewing studies on fat, researchers found that while the amount of fat consumed makes a difference, the real issue for AMD is the amount of saturated fats in the diet. 

The biggest source of saturated fat is animal products - beef, lamb, pork, lard, butter, cream, whole milk and high fat cheese. Plant oils also have saturated fat, including coconut oil, cocoa butter, palm oil and palm kernel oil.

Read the labels on processed foods and baked goods, as they often have high amounts of saturated fats.

Ask Your Doctor About Supplements

If you have intermediate AMD already, your doctor may recommend taking a supplement that has been proven to slow the progression and vision loss from AMD. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) was a 10 year study of 3500 people with AMD. The supplement contains:

  • 500 mg Vitamin C
  • 400 IU Vitamin E
  • 15 mg Betacarotene
  • 80 mg zinc
  • 2 mg copper

The AREDS formula did not prevent AMD and was not effective in people with early AMD. But for those with intermediate AMD, it slowed the progression by 25% and slowed the vision loss by 19%. This is a high dose vitamin, so you should only take it if your doctor recommends it. You should also inform all your doctors of every supplement or herbal remedy you use.

Additional research findings have led scientists to consider changing the AREDS formula.  The level of zinc has been thought to be too high and we now know more about lutein, zeaxanthin and omega-3. 

There is currently an AREDS II project underway, which reduces the zinc, eliminates the betacarotene, and adds lutein, zeaxanthin and omega-3. It will be several years before we have the results of this study. In the meantime, your doctor may suggest that you take some of these nutrients.

We don't have any evidence that a particular vitamin prevents macular degeneration.  However, there is good research on lutein, zeaxanthin, omega-3.  If your diet is very low in these substances, you might ask your doctor about taking supplements. They have been proven to have an effect on other body systems, like the heart, circulation and skin. 

 

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