What Can I Do About Macular Degeneration?
Now is the time to take charge of your health.
We have clear evidence that certain lifestyle choices can slow down macular degeneration and may even help prevent it in people with high uncontrollable risk factors (like family history). Other lifestyle choices can speed up the disease or contribute to getting it at an earlier age.
If you have a family member with AMD, or one of the other risk factors that you can’t control, you should be paying even more attention. The recommendations will not surprise you. You’ve heard them before, but perhaps you never thought of them in relation to your eyesight.
There are a lot of things you can do that may slow down the progression of macular degeneration and vision loss. Pay attention to these daily habits and you can help fight the progression of AMD. Some things you are doing now may be making your macular degeneration worse and setting you up for more vision loss in the future. Changing your behavior today can help.
Smoking increases your risk of developing macular degeneration two to 5 times! If you have a family history of AMD and your genes contain a certain “complement factor”, your smoking is increasing your risk up to 200 fold.
Macular degeneration appears to be related to the efficiency of the circulatory system and smoking can affect your circulation.
Tobacco appears to interfere with the absorption of lutein, an important antioxidant that protects the retina. Smokers are likely to have low levels of lutein and they are at greater risk of developing macular degeneration than nonsmokers. So, if you’ve been trying to quit smoking, here’s another good reason to stop!
Reduce High Blood Pressure
The eye is a highly vascular organ and it has a rich supply of blood vessels. In fact, the rate of blood exchange in the eye is the highest in the body. The link between high blood pressure and AMD has been the subject of much research.
The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have your doctor check for it. There are no symptoms, which is why it is called “the silent killer”. If you have high blood pressure, it can be controlled by following your doctor’s instructions. This may involve changes in diet and/or medication.
People with high cholesterol have a greater chance of developing macular degeneration. But, people with high cholesterol who took “statins” to reduce their cholesterol had a lower risk.
Eat Lots of Vegetables and Fruits
Antioxidants are protective for 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.
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.
If you are taking a medication that prevents you from eating leafy greens, or have diabetes, talk to your doctor about other options. A supplement of lutein may be appropriate.
You can find some healthy recipes at EyeFoods or order their book.
Eat Fish Twice a Week
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.
Avoid Saturated Fat and Processed Foods
Research shows that saturated fat contributes to AMD. Processed foods like commercial baked goods contain this unhealthy fat. They are often “hi-glycemic” foods that rapidly convert to sugar in the body.
Get Some Exercise
Pump up your cardiovascular system by getting exercise at least three days a week. Even walking on a regular basis will help. People with a sedentary lifestyle are at a higher risk for AMD. Maintain a healthy weight. People who are obese are more prone to developing macular degeneration.
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.
- 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 has led scientists to consider changing this formula. A five year AREDS 2 project has just concluded, which looked at reducing the zinc, eliminating the betacarotene (which can cause lung cancer in smokers) and adding lutein, zeaxanthin and omega-3. As a result of the data collected, the National Eye Institute has recommended changes to the AREDS formula. They removed the betacarotene and added lutein and zeaxanthin, which were an effective replacement. For people with a poor diet, the lutein and zeaxanthin provided additional benefit, but for those who already have a good diet, the lutein and zeaxanthin did not make a difference. They did not suggest adding Omega-3, as they saw no effect from it in this study.
- 500 mg Vitamin C
- 400 IU Vitamin E
- 80 mg zinc
- 2 mg copper
- 10 mg lutein
- 2 mg zeaxanthin
Protect Your Eyes From Exposure to Harmful Sunlight
Ultraviolet light and blue light can damage your retina and may increase your chances of developing macular degeneration. They can also speed up its development. Therefore, it is extremely important to protect your eyes when you are out of doors.
Wear a hat or visor whenever you are outside, even on overcast days. Ultraviolet light passes through cloud cover and is just as dangerous as direct sunlight.
Look for sunglasses that screen 99-100% of ultraviolet A and B rays. Recent research points to blue light (the short wavelengths of the light spectrum) as an even more damaging factor. To be on the safe side, try to find glasses that guard against both ultraviolet rays and bluelight. The most helpful colors for blocking out blue light are red, orange, yellow and amber. Newer glasses are using a synthetic melanin to block the blue light without needing to be tinted. Because glare is often a problem for people with AMD, choose this protection carefully. You can also have your regular glasses treated with ultraviolet protection – a clear coating that will not interfere with your sight.
A certain percentage of sunglasses are mislabeled, so always buy sunglasses from a reputable dealer. Your optician can check your glasses to measure the UV protection.
Most glasses allow some direct sunlight to enter from the top and sides of the frame. There are sunglasses designed specifically for macular degeneration that include side panels and a ridge at the top of the glasses so that all light is filtered.
Here are some reputable sunglass manufacturers: