Macular degeneration is a progressive, incurable eye disease that damages the macula, or the area in the middle of your retina that gives you sharp central vision. Also known as age-related macular degeneration or AMD, this painless condition slowly destroys the cells in your macula, causing mild blurry vision or trouble seeing in low light — at first.
When it’s allowed to advance unchecked, AMD leads to vision loss. In the United States, it’s the leading cause of irreversible vision loss in adults over the age of 60, affecting nearly 20 million Americans. Age is the top risk factor for AMD, meaning the older you are, the greater your risk. Adults aged 75 and older have a one in three chance of developing this sight-robbing disease.
But getting older isn’t the only thing that raises your macular degeneration risk; your eating habits can play a role, too. Luckily, the right nutritional changes can help guard against AMD, boost your ocular health, and reduce your risk of vision loss. Here, Dr. Markiel Yakubov of Elite Eye Care in New York City explains what that means.
AMD is a common eye disease that gradually impairs sharp central vision. Sharp central vision allows you to perceive fine details when you’re looking straight ahead; the loss of central vision makes it harder to read, drive, see faces, or accomplish routine tasks like cooking.
There are two types of AMD — dry and wet:
One in five people (20%) with AMD have the wet type, which develops when abnormal blood vessels grow underneath the macula and leak fluid. Wet AMD destroys macular cells — and impairs vision — far more rapidly than dry AMD. Dry AMD can also turn into wet AMD.
Advancing age is the biggest risk factor for macular degeneration, but it’s not the only one: Other factors can both contribute to its development and make the condition advance more quickly. Long-term sun exposure is one AMD risk factor, and so is smoking; in fact, smokers are twice as likely to develop AMD compared to nonsmokers.
Unhealthy eating habits, or a dietary pattern that’s high in saturated fats and cholesterol and low in antioxidants, is another significant AMD risk factor. Specifically, eating a lot of high-fat, ultra-processed food products can increase the risk of AMD and accelerate its progression.
A high-quality diet supports optimal overall health and optimal ocular health. It doesn’t have to be complicated, either; in fact, a basic heart-healthy diet — one that emphasizes whole foods (i.e., vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean proteins, unsaturated fats) and limits processed foods, saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars — supports good circulatory health and eye health.
Protecting your vision also means giving your eyes the specific nutrients they need to maintain optimal function. A few stand-out foods in a diet designed to guard against AMD and support long-term eye health are:
Key nutrients that foster eye health and protect against macular degeneration include:
These two carotenoids, or proactive plant pigments, act as antioxidants in the retina, where they help protect the macula from ultraviolet light. Having higher concentrations of lutein and zeaxanthin in your retinas is associated with significantly better distance vision and a reduced risk of AMD. Spinach, kale, and other dark leafy green vegetables are rich in both carotenoids.
Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in salmon, tuna, walnuts, and flaxseeds, play an essential role in vision development and retinal function. Research shows that people who eat fish high in omega-3s at least twice a week have a significantly lower risk of developing AMD.
Vitamin C and vitamin E are powerful antioxidant nutrients that protect the cells in your eyes — including the all-important macula — from free-radical damage. Both these essential nutrients help prevent AMD onset and slow its progression.
Vitamin C is found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, including strawberries and bell peppers; vitamin E is found in avocados, sweet potatoes, nuts, and fortified cereals.
Neither form of AMD causes symptoms early on, so most people don’t know they have this sight-robbing disease until they’ve already sustained a significant degree of irreversible vision loss. Luckily, having routine comprehensive eye examinations can help you detect AMD well before it causes significant damage or impairs your vision.
To learn more about macular degeneration or schedule your next eye exam at Elite Eye Care, call or click online to book an appointment at your nearest New York City location today: We have one office in Brooklyn, and four offices throughout the Bronx.