Macular Degeneration is a chronic eye disease that slowly erodes the retina and causes vision loss. It is the leading cause of blindness is developed countries, accounting for 50% of blindness. Worldwide, approximately 21 million elderly suffer from the disease. In the United States, 1.75 million people over the age of 50 years have advanced AMD. This number is expected to increase to 2.95 million by 2010.
There are two types of AMD.
1. Dry macular degeneration - This type is marked by deterioration of the macula. One of the symptoms is vision loss in the center of your field of vision. This is the more common form of the disease.
2. Wet macular degeneration - This type is characterized by swelling caused by leaky blood vessels in the back of your eye.
Causes of the disease are attributed to both genetic as well as environmental factors. Both inflammation and oxidative stress are known contributors. There are also two genes that have been identified which increase the chance of developing the disease by up to 15 times. To successfully combat the burden of this disease, the effect of these two genes needs to be counteracted.
Macular Degeneration Prevention
There is no treatment available for those who have AMD. Most people with AMD are able to live relatively normal, productive lives, especially since the progression of the disease is very slow and gradual. Symptoms can be treated with drugs or surgery, but these will not reverse the disease. The only known protective factor for preventing AMD is nutrients.
In ‘The Rotterdam Study’, the diets of people recognized to possess one of the two known genes that contribute to AMD were surveyed over a 10 year period. Researchers discovered that the rate of those suffering from vision loss in those getting the lowest amount of omega-3s (~22 mg per day) was 39 cases out of 100 people; in people who consumed the most omega-3s (268 mg per day), the rate was 28 people out of every 100.
In general, people who got the most zinc, beta carotene, omega-3 fatty acids or lutein in their diets were less likely to develop the symptoms for macular degeneration. Foods high in antioxidants are also important in prevention of the disease since they can reduce the production of free radicals in the outer retina.
The authors of the study end their report with recommend foods for each type of nutrient.
1. Zinc - fortified cereals, meats, dairy products, nuts, and seeds.
2. Beta-carotene - dark-green leafy vegetables, orange vegetables
3. EPA/DHA omega-3 - oily fish