Macular degeneration, as its name suggests, is a degenerative condition of the macula, the area of the retina responsible for central vision and fine detail.
It is often referred to as age-related macular degeneration because it usually occurs in individuals over age 55. In fact, it is the leading cause of permanent vision loss in older men and women.
How to Treat Macular Degeneration
There are two main types of macular degeneration, and although they are related, they have different characteristics and require different treatments.
“Wet'' macular degeneration is caused by excessive blood vessel growth and fluid leakage in the retina. It is treated with drugs to retard the growth of these abnormal vessels or, in more severe cases, laser therapy to close affected vessels and prevent leakage. This type is responsible for most macular degeneration–related blindness.
Fortunately, the majority of people with macular degeneration have the “dry” type. It is marked by a buildup of metabolic waste products in the macula, creating small lesions called drusen that impair the function of light-sensitive cells. Dry macular degeneration progresses more slowly and results in less severe vision loss, although it may over time turn into the wet form and cause significant impairment.
Dry macular degeneration is considered to be “untreatable,” but this just isn’t true. There may be no drugs or invasive treatments for this type of macular degeneration, but targeted nutritional supplements are a proven treatment for reducing its progression.
Best Eye Supplements for Macular Degeneration
The Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS and AREDS2) are ground-breaking clinical trials conducted by the National Eye Institute. These two studies found that specific nutrients were an effective therapy for treating intermediate macular degeneration and slowing its progression by about 26%.
After testing various nutrient combinations, researchers concluded that the combo which produced the best, safest, and most sustained results included daily doses of these nutrients:
Although the AREDS studies specifically focused on patients who had been diagnosed with macular degeneration, ongoing research suggests these same nutrients, which fortify the macula and retina and protect against oxidative damage, also help prevent macular degeneration.
Program for Preventing Macular Degeneration
By 2040, one in five Americans will be age 65 or older, which means their risk of macular degeneration skyrockets. This is particularly true for those who smoke or have light-colored eyes, hypertension, or a family history of macular degeneration, which further increases risk.
At some point, we all have to stop taking our eyesight for granted and get serious about protecting our eyes and preventing macular degeneration. Here is the program I recommend:
Lutein and zeaxanthin are the only carotenoids that accumulate in the retina, especially in the macula. These antioxidants give the macula a dark yellow color, called the macular pigment, which acts like a sunscreen, blocking out damaging blue light and protecting against UV-generated oxidative stress.
Maintaining and enhancing the macular pigment is key for preventing macular degeneration, and supplementing with these carotenoids can help. Study participants who took 20 mg of lutein daily for one year had significant increases in the density of the macular pigment. Lutein has also been shown to reduce inflammation, eye fatigue, and glare sensitivity. Plus, it improves light/dark adaptation and nighttime driving. The recommended dosage is 20–40 mg lutein and 2–4 mg zeaxanthin.
Other supportive nutrients include vitamins C, E, and A (beta-carotene), zinc, copper, lycopene, and bilberry and other berry extracts. Vitamin D may also be beneficial. One study found that postmenopausal women with high blood levels of vitamin D levels were at a significantly reduced risk of macular degeneration.
In addition to taking lutein and zeaxanthin supplements, you can increase levels of these carotenoids by loading up on leafy greens. In one study, individuals who ate the most spinach, kale, collards, and other leafy greens had a 43% lower risk of developing macular degeneration compared with those who ate the least.
Omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish are protective as well. Australian researchers followed 2,335 people aged 49 or older for five years and found that eating fish once a week lowered the risk of early macular degeneration by 40%. Three weekly servings reduced the risk of advanced disease by 75%.
You also need to go easy on sugars and starches. Researchers from Tufts University School of Medicine reported that women who ate a high-glycemic diet were more likely to develop early macular degeneration than those who ate more low-glycemic carbohydrates.
Don’t overlook the importance of exercise. Several studies have linked a high level of physical activity with lower odds of having macular degeneration.
Get a handle on your weight and blood pressure, as both obesity and hypertension are risk factors for macular degeneration and other eye diseases.
If you smoke, stop. Smoking doubles to quadruples your likelihood of developing macular degeneration—and developing it at an earlier age.
Finally, limit your screen time. Smartphones, tablets, computers, and other digital devices emit blue light, and excessive exposure to this high-energy wavelength of light is associated with a higher risk of macular degeneration, as well as eyestrain and sleep problems.
Macular Degeneration Is Not Inevitable
Some age-related vision changes are to be expected. Virtually all of us will require reading glasses at some point in our lives. Macular degeneration, however, is not inevitable.
It’s never too early to be proactive about your vision. Take a hard look at your diet and lifestyle, make appropriate changes, and start on a nutritional supplement program geared toward preventing macular degeneration—and you’ll be well on your way toward a lifetime of better vision.