Macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in patients 55 years of age and older. I would like to share some of the latest studies and science surrounding this mostly preventable blinding eye disease. Current research shows that some carotenoids and omega-3 fatty acids(fish oil) could have a major impact on delaying the onset of blindness resulting from AMD. Carotenoids are organic pigments found in natural foods such as fruits and vegetables, which contain beneficial antioxidants. Sufficient intake of the carotenoids, zeaxanthin and lutein, may reduce the risk of blinding effects from AMD by as much as 93%. Lutein is found in dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach, collard greens, and Kale. Finding a large amount of zeaxanthin in food is more difficult, but smaller amounts can be obtained from orange bell peppers, egg yolks, oranges and Goji berries. Dr. Stuart Richer of the Veterans Administration and others have shown through research that increasing lutein and zeaxanthin levels in the macula can improve your visual acuity, color vision, light sensitivity, contrast and small amounts of visual distortion. Many researchers believe that zeaxanthin is actually more important than lutein because it resides in the center of the macula, whereas lutein is found in greater porportion in the macular periphery.
People at greatest risk for developing AMD are those with a family history of the disease, those who eat high glycemic foods or foods high in trans fats, smokers, people age 55 and older, couch potatoes and people who have low amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin in the macula (macular protective pigment). Doctors can now test how much pigment (lutein and zeaxanthin) is in the macula, i.e.- low density of macular protective pigment signifies greater risk for developing macular degeneration. Unfortunately, the average American diet does not consist of the necessary amounts of zeaxanthin and lutein. Eating a regular diet consistiong of leafy green vegetables and deep water oily fish (ex.- salmon, mackerel, halibut, sardines, anchovies) may successfully increase macular protective pigment density by up to 80% within 6 months. For those that may have trouble adhearing to this form of diet, your doctor can prescribe eye supplements that contain these important nutrients to reduce your risk or delay the onset of developing this horrific blinding eye disease. Preventive eyecare, including patient education and intervention, is the newest frontier in the quest for maintaining healthy eyes and preventing vision loss.