It’s estimated that more than 1.8 million Americans over the age of 40 have symptoms of age-related macular degeneration, often called AMD. But, many people don’t know what this disease is and how macular degeneration affects vision.
The macula is the part of the retina that the light-sensitive cells of the eye are located. Macular degeneration occurs when these light-sensitive cells are damaged or cease working. We use this part of the eye for reading, driving, watching television, and fine work. In short, this is the region of maximum visual acuity. Some half-million new cases of AMD are diagnosed each year.
There are two main reasons that macular degeneration affects vision. The first is due to the irreversible death of photoreceptors. The second is the invasion of leaky, unwanted blood vessels in the retina. Vision loss usually occurs gradually and typically affects both eyes at different rates.
So, how do you know if you have AMD?
There are a couple of common signs that you are developing AMD. Notice if straight lines look wavy or if you notice shadowy areas or dark spots in your central vision. These are signs you may be experiencing early signs of the disease. At advanced stages, even seeing the face of a loved one becomes impossible.
Seeing Is Believing
Does the vision of someone with AMD look different than someone with healthy eyes? In a recent National Eye Institute video, you’re shown how macular degeneration affects vision as compared to normal vision.
First, you see the aisles in a grocery store. There’s food on the shelves and everything looks clear. For a person with AMD, we’re shown how there can be a dark splotch in the center of their vision. The area around the darkness appears distorted and wavy. Sure, you still have clear vision in the outskirts of your field of view. But, not having a clear central vision is extremely alarming, irritating, and inconvenient.
How Can You Prevent AMD?
Your likelihood of developing AMD depends on a lot of factors. It could be part of your familial genes to develop it. Or, your lifestyle could be contributing to causing it. Here are three important steps you can take to guard against developing AMD.
1. Consume the Right Fats
The omega-3 essential fatty acid known as DHA, is intimately involved with eye health. It’s found in salmon, mackerel, sardines, shellfish, and herring. Tuna is also a great source, and bluefin tuna has up to five times more DHA than other types of tuna. Several epidemiologic studies have indicated that omega-3 oils may reduce the risk for AMD.
Studies recommended increasing your omega-3 intake to reduce inflammation. This is important as inflammation in the eye can lead to AMD. Also, you should avoid highly processed snack foods and consuming two or more servings of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids per week. This is said to help lower the risk of developing AMD.
Where else can you get omega-3s from? Besides fish, nuts also provide healthy fats. You can also get your intake from eating avocados, oysters, and flaxseeds.
2. Supplement with Lutein and Zeaxanthin
The carotenes lutein and zeaxanthin are vital to vision because they form the macular pigment region in your eye. They have been shown to increase the size/thickness of this region when supplemented. This offers substantial protection against vision loss and blindness.
In 2018, a study was published that says lutein has been shown to not only help prevent, but also to actually reverse symptoms of AMD. Although there is no cure for AMD, you can slow down its progression and see some improvements in symptoms.
Foods that contain lutein and zeaxanthin include kale, spinach, collard greens, eggs, turnip greens, broccoli, zucchini, romaine lettuce, corn, and peas. A supplement of 20 mg of lutein and 6-10 mg of zeaxanthin per day has been proven to increase macular pigment health.
In addition to being antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin may help protect against photodamage of the retina by filtering out blue light. Over time, blue light can do severe damage to the retina. They may also protect the blood vessels that supply the macular region.
3. Quit Smoking
Smoking is a powerful risk factor for loss of vision with AMD. In fact, one study showed that smoking more than doubles the risk of AMD. How? Possibly by reducing serum antioxidant levels and changing blood flow to the eyes. We already know how important antioxidants are for eye health. This is just one more reason why you should not smoke.
Luckily, it’s never too late to benefit from quitting. There are benefits within hours of quitting smoking. First, your heart rate will return to normal and the carbon monoxide level in your blood will normalize. After two weeks, your risks of heart disease decrease. After nine months, the coughing goes away and your physical capabilities improve. Jump to 15 years later, and in terms of risks for disease, it’s like you never smoked in the first place. When your overall body is healthy, your eyes are healthier.
4. Stay Active
A study conducted in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin took into account lifestyles, medical conditions, and AMD. The study began in 1988 and was updated every five years; participants were between the ages of 43 and 86. This study showed that participants who led an active lifestyle were 70 percent less likely to develop AMD.
Participants who walked at least three times a week were less likely to develop AMD than the participants who led a more sedentary lifestyle. Of course, walking is not the only type of exercise that can help. Almost any type of regular exercise can achieve the same results. The improved blood flow experienced by those who do cardio exercises may have something to do with the lower chance of developing AMD. Exercise is good for you for a myriad of reasons, and your vision health is definitely one of them.
Macular degeneration is far too common for people to know so little about it. Depending on your genes and your lifestyle, you could be at a high risk of developing it. Do your research and follow the tips above. You only get two eyes, make sure you protect them!