What is Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)?
Are you unable to see at certain angles? Do you struggle with your vision in bright light? Do you see a “hole” in the middle of the image when you look straight ahead? You could be suffering from AMD or Age Related Macular Degeneration, one of the leading causes of blindness among people above fifty.
This condition is also referred to as age-related maculopathy or AMR. There is a spot on the centre of the retina, inside our eye, known as the macula. The macula has a significant role to play when we see objects that are directly in front of our eyes. When this spot ‘degenerates’, people report seeing a ‘hole’ in the middle of the image they see in front of them.
There are several eyesight issues that begin during middle age but AMD is a grim diagnosis. The current medical literature notes that it is progressive disease; you will lose vision at certain angles, be unable to see in bright light and eventually, lose almost all your vision.
What Causes AMD?
While science is yet to conclusively determine the causes and mechanism of AMD, risk factors for developing it have been clearly identified.These include:
- A Family History of The Macular Disease
- Cigarette Smoking
- Excessive Exposure to Bright Light
- Light Iris Pigmentation (color) by Birth
- Chemical Exposure
- History of Cardiovascular Disease
- Decreased Hand Grip Strength and
- Hyperopia (difficulty in seeing things that are close-up)
What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?
It’s also believed that AMD is neither curable nor completely reversible. The best defense against this condition is to slow down its progress. Here are 4 easy tips to reduce the risk of developing AMD and if you already have it, to slow down its progress.
Load Up On Egg Yolks, Colorful Veggies And Fruit (Or On Lutein And Zeaxanthin Supplements)
Lutein and zeaxanthin are two pigments present in both colorful vegetables and fruits and in the macular regions of our eyes. Think egg yolks, corn, orange bell peppers, zucchini, grapes and oranges and you can feel the healthy colour of these carotenoids! In numerous studies, both dietary carotenoids and supplements containing lutein and zeaxanthin have been found to reduce the risk of AMD and even slow down its progression.
The Beaver Dam Eye Study evaluated, through a food frequency questionnaire, the diets of 2,003 individuals age 43-84. The study found that the higher the dietary intake of carotenoids and vitamin E, the lower the development of drusen – which are damaged portions of the macula and predict future development of macular degeneration.
In another study, participants were given Zeaxanthin-boosting supplements of lacto wolfberry (13.7 g/day). The researchers then went on to examine the number of pieces of drusen in their eyes and found that the supplements helped lower damage to the eye. A third study, of early stage AMD patients, found that supplements containing a combination of 12 mg lutein and 1 mg Zeaxanthin improved their eyesight.
Check Your Carbs
Another important way to slow down AMD is to eat a low glycemic index diet. Carbohydrate-rich foods like rice, wheat and other cereals, especially, when the bran is removed from them, can release a lot of sugar quickly, within 2 hours of a meal, into our blood. These are known as high-glycemic index (GI) foods. On the flip side, foods that do NOT increase the levels of sugar in our blood soon after eating them are known as low-glycemic index foods. Most urban diets have refined starches in the form of bread, pasta, polished rice, high-fructose corn syrup and cornstarch additives. All these are high- GI foods.
Research has shown that people who consume high-GI foods have a greater risk of developing AMD than those who consume low-GI foods. In fact, research shows that low-glycemic-index foods such as oatmeal may offer protection against early AMD. Higher blood sugar levels could be the reason for this. Sugar is inflammatory and the eye is extremely sensitive to high blood sugar.
One way to eliminate high-GI foods from the diet is to use whole-grain cereal preparations like whole-wheat pasta and bread made from stone-ground wheat. Wild rice, unpolished, of course, can be a good substitute for polished white rice.
Balance Your Fats
Doctors recommend the consumption of polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) for overall health. Amongst PUFA, there are two important classes of fats, namely omega-3 (O3) and omega-6 (O6) fats. There is now evidence to suggest that modern diets are heavily skewed towards high consumption of omega-6 fats. Ideally, the ratio of these fats in most diets should be O6:O3 = 1:1. However, modern consumption patterns show that people are now eating these fats at a ratio of O6:O3 = 20:1! This great imbalance actually acts as a tipping point for many chronic health complaints. Results from a recent study show that reduction of O6 fats from the diet and a simultaneous increase in the amounts of O3 fats can help to reduce the risk of developing AMD.
Omega-3 fats are abundantly found in fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines and herring. Doctors recommend that at least two servings of fish per week should be included in the regular diet. In fact, people who eat fish regularly are definitely at a lower risk of developing AMD than those who do not.
A balance between animal and vegetable fats is also good to reduce the risk of AMD. Diets that include fats from only plant and vegetable sources can also increase the risk of developing a variant of AMD, known as dry AMD.
While vegetarians can use flax or chia in place of fish, the omega fatty acids in these sources need to be converted further in the body before they can do their job. It may be simplest to include a good quality Omega-3 dietary supplement at 2-3 grams a day.
Zinc to The Rescue
This humble mineral may play a crucial role in helping those with AMD. A double blind, placebo-control study (the sort of study considered the gold standard of research) was done to see if zinc supplementation could help slow the progression of macular degeneration. One hundred fifty-one subjects age 42-89 were divided into two groups. While the zinc group received 100 mg zinc sulphate (providing 40 mg elemental zinc) daily, the placebo group received tablets containing lactose and fructose, or in other words, plain sugar pills. The start of the study, all participants had confirmed macular degeneration. The zinc-treated group demonstrated significantly sharper eyesight than the placebo group during a 12-24 month follow-up. What’s more, a close eye examination revealed that the zinc group had a decrease in the accumulation of damaged bits of the macula (called drusen).
Long-term supplementation with zinc could lead to copper being depleted from the body, so always balance how you use zinc with a counter-balancing intake of copper.
Follow these proven tips to help support your fight against AMD and remember – although no studies have been done clearly linking multivitamins to AMD, experts agree that in today’s world of poor soil and crop quality, pollution and high stress, a good quality multi could go a long way to laying the foundation for good health. Here’s to many more years of perfect vision!