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Age-Related Macular (Eye) Degeneration – What is it and what foods can help?

In the over 50’s, Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)  is the leading cause of sight loss in Ireland with over 7,000 new cases in Ireland every year.  Research has shown that certain foods and nutrients may help to prevent and slow the progression of this sight threatening disease.

What Is Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)?
AMD is a disease that gradually destroys the macula, a small region in the centre of the retina.  The retina is a light-sensitive layer of tissue that lines the back of the eye, containing millions of light sensitive cells known as photoreceptors, which are responsible for clear vision.   The condition is usually characterised by its slow degeneration of the macula and therefore its slow progression to vision loss.   The vision loss from AMD which often manifests as problems with facial recognition and reading is unfortunately irreversible.  However, if it’s detected early, retinal treatments can slow the progression of the disease.

AMD Risk Factors
According to the National Eye Institute, the risk of developing the condition increased with age i.e. adults aged 50 and older are at increased risk of AMD, and that risk continues to rise with age.  Patients with a family history of AMD and people who smoke are believed to have an increased risk of developing the disease.

Nutrition and AMD

The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) was a large clinical trial that was conducted by the National Institutes of Health’s National Eye Institute. Initiated in the early 1990s, this landmark study provided strong evidence that consuming large amounts of certain nutrients can help prevent or slow the progression of AMD.  When researchers gave patients a formulation of high-dose antioxidants plus zinc, they observed a 25% reduced risk of developing more advanced AMD and a 19% lower risk of central vision loss among individuals with intermediate or advanced disease.  The National Eye Institute completed a follow-up study called the Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2, which clarified the role of supplements in helping prevent advanced AMD.  Even though AMD specific supplements have been shown to have some value, we still need nutrients from whole food.   We must remember that taking nutritional supplements is never a substitute for a habitually poor diet.   Some eye specialists recommend eye specific supplements to patients who have been diagnosed with intermediate and advanced AMD.

.Key Nutrients for Eye Health

Lutein and Zeaxanthin
These two nutrients are found in high concentrations in the macula, a small region in the centre of the retina.  Lutein and zeaxanthin act as antioxidants, protecting the eye from environmental damage caused by smoking, pollutants and sun exposure.

Food sources: Dark, leafy, green vegetables such as spinach and  kale. It’s found in smaller amounts in foods such as  broccoli, brussel sprouts, sweetcorn, romaine lettuce, peas and eggs.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These polyunsaturated fatty acids support eye health by preventing plaque buildup in arteries and smaller blood vessels and also reduces inflammation and cell damage.

Food sources: Cold-water fish high in both DHA and EPA, such as salmon, herring, sardines and tuna. Plant-derived omega-3 fats are found in flaxseeds, walnuts and dark green leafy vegetables.

Zinc plays a role in bringing vitamin A from the liver to the retina to produce melanin, the protective pigment in the eyes. Zinc is concentrated in the retina as well as the vascular tissue layer underneath the retina.

Food sources: Red meat, seafood, poultry, pork, oysters, eggs, nuts, tofu, baked beans, wheat germ.

Vitamin C
Vitamin C is actively concentrated in eye tissue and supports the health of ocular blood vessels.

Food sources: Citrus fruits, including oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruits, as well as red peppers, tomatoes, and spinach.

Vitamin E
Vitamin E is an antioxidant for the eye, protecting it from environmental damage and free radicals that harm healthy eye tissue. It plays a role in vital biological processes, such as DNA repair, and maintains healthy cell membranes.

Food sources: Nuts, such as almonds and peanuts, as well as sunflower seeds, vegetable oils, wheat germ, fortified cereals and sweet potatoes.

For more information see or consult your doctor / opthalmologist