January 04, 2011
Though we grew up believing a carrot a day would help keep the ophthalmologist away, the colorful vegetable is not the only food choice for healthy vision. Certain vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients can help prevent or slow down the progression of eye disease.
And although it’s important to add certain micronutrients to your diet, it’s also vital to cut some things out. The American Heart Association reports the average American consumes more than 72 pounds of sugar per year. This unhealthy lifestyle is leading many to develop diseases like diabetes, which can have devastating effects on vision, among other problems.
“We see many diabetic patients with severe vision problems,” said Michael D. Bennett, M.D., F.A.C.S., “We want to give these and other people the tools to prevent these blinding complications, and a healthy diet is a basic tool that can have a big impact. We also need to remind people that a healthy diet does not always mean forgoing calories or fat, but consuming essential vitamins and other micronutrients that will support our bodies.”olokai), I have a good chance to reverse some of the effects of my wet AMD condition and improve my vision. I am very grateful for this opportunity. Mahalo nui loa.”
The Bottom Line: What you eat can impact your eye health, and future medical research will likely result in a better understanding of which nutrients are most important for preventing common eye diseases.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Nutrients that may help high-risk patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD): High-dose antioxidants (vitamins A, C and E) and zinc slow the development of advanced AMD. These micronutrients can most easily be obtained by using one of the over-the-counter AREDS-type “eye vitamin” supplements (the National Eye Institute AREDS [Age-Related Eye Disease Study] trial demonstrated the benefit of antioxidants in AMD), as it is nearly impossible to consume the AREDS level of antioxidant intake by
diet alone. These supplements can be purchased at your local drugstore, grocery store and health food store or on the Internet. Note that those who are current smokers or who have smoked within the past 12 months should avoid beta-carotene in their supplements, as this may increase the risk for lung cancer. The normal human retina contains the xanthophyll carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which protect the retina from inflammatory and oxidative damage, as well as from the damaging effects of ultraviolet
(blue) light, by acting as scavengers of free radicals. Some studies suggest that decreased levels of these micronutrients increase the risk of AMD, so they are currently being conclusively studied in the ongoing AREDS-2 study. In the meantime, lutein and zeaxanthin can be found in various “next-generation” AREDS-type “eye vitamin” supplements, and using these supplements may make sense for patients at high risk of progression to advanced AMD. Dark green, leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, broccoli, etc.) and yellow fruits and vegetables (corn, peaches, persimmons, mangoes, etc.) are good sources of lutein and zeaxanthin. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential lipid components of photoreceptor membranes. Some recent studies have suggested that high consumption of cold-water fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines) rich in the
omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA may lower the risk of AMD. Fish oil supplements may also be helpful in this regard. Finally, smoking has been shown to be a risk factor for development of AMD and its progression, so cessation of this habit is important.
Nutrients that may help treat diabetic retinopathy: Keeping your blood sugar levels well controlled can help prevent complications of diabetes, such as diabetic
retinopathy. If you have diabetes, your eating habits need to be changed in order to control overeating, make better food choices and lose weight. Consulting
a dietician may help. Choose a diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruits and whole grains, because they have more vitamins, minerals and fiber.
What You Need to Know
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD ) is a disease associated with aging that gradually destroys sharp central vision. It is the leading cause of vision loss and
blindness in Americans ages 65 and older. AMD occurs when the macula degenerates. There are two forms of AMD : the wet form and the dry form. Wet AMD occurs
when abnormal blood vessels behind the retina start to grow under the macula. These new blood vessels tend to be very fragile and often leak blood and fluid. The blood and fluid raise the macula from its normal place at the back of the eye. Damage to the macula occurs rapidly. Dry AMD occurs when the light-sensitive cells in
the macula slowly break down, gradually blurring central vision in the affected eye. As dry AMD gets worse, you may see a blurred spot in the center of your vision. Over
time, as less of the macula functions, central vision is gradually lost in the affected eye.
Nearly 50% of people with diabetes will develop diabetic retinopathy during their lifetime. The longer a person has diabetes, the higher the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is caused by damage to the blood vessels of the retina from high sugar, and it can result in vision loss. The two major forms of diabetic retinopathy are diabetic macular edema and proliferative diabetic retinopathy.