It is estimated that more than 17 million Americans may have symptoms of macular degeneration, often called AMD or ARMD (for “age-related macular degeneration”). But many people don’t really know how macular degeneration affects vision.
The macula is the part of the retina, it is in this area 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, it is the region of maximum visual acuity. Some half-million new cases of AMD are diagnosed each year.
The reason macular degeneration affects vision is due to the irreversible death of photoreceptors and/or the invasion of leaky, unwanted blood vessels into the retina. Vision loss usually occurs gradually and typically affects both eyes at different rates.
How do you know if you have AMD?
If straight lines look wavy, or if you notice shadowy areas or dark or empty spots in your central vision, 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
Adam Hahn is a painter in London, England, whose grandmother had AMD. Although she led a rich, active life, when she passed away, Adam realized he never actually knew what she saw as her condition worsened. He was determined to find out how macular degeneration affects vision.
Adam interviewed people with AMD, asking them to describe how they saw themselves with their partial vision. He then painted their portraits accordingly. The result is an astounding collection of wholly or partially blurred paintings, in blacks, whites, and grays, perhaps to indicate the deterioration of color vision that many people with AMD also experience.
For a look at some of these portraits, as well as an interview with Adam and some of those who participated in this groundbreaking project, check out the video below.
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, found in salmon, tuna (bluefin tuna has up to five times more DHA than other types of tuna), mackerel, sardines, shellfish, and herring, is intimately involved with eye health. Several epidemiologic studies have indicated that omega 3 oils may reduce the risk for AMD.
A study published in the August 2001 issue of Archives of Ophthalmology recommended avoiding highly processed snack foods and consuming two or more servings of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids per week to lower the risk of developing AMD. Nuts also provide healthy fats: eating one serving a day of any type of nut, according to AgingEye Times, reduces the risk of progression of AMD by 40 percent.
2. Supplement with lutein and zeaxanthin. The carotenes lutein and zeaxanthin are vital to vision because they actually form the macular pigment region in your eye. They have been shown to increase the size/thickness of this region when supplemented, offering substantial protection against vision loss and blindness.
In 2004, the North Chicago VA Medical Center announced that lutein has been shown to not only help prevent, but also to actually reverse, symptoms of AMD. According to the center, “The LAST study (Lutein Antioxidant Supplementation Trial) is the first trial to record actual improvement in several key visual functions among patients with AMD.”
Foods that contain these nutrients 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, which can damage the retina over time. They may also protect the blood vessels that supply the macular region.
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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, possibly by reducing serum antioxidant levels and changing blood flow to the eyes.
But it’s never too late to benefit from quitting: a 2010 UCLA study found that even after age 80, smoking continues to increase the risk for AMD; therefore, researchers concluded that quitting smoking even late in life may reduce your risk of developing AMD.
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 macular degeneration or age-related macular degeneration.
The study showed that participants who walked at least three times a week were much 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.
There is some speculation that the increased or improved blood flow experienced by those who do cardio exercises like walking and cycling may have something to do with the lower chance of developing AMD.