Many people grow up with perfect, 20/20 vision, but that could change once you enter your golden years—a growing number of aging adults will experience gradual vision loss. One of the leading causes of age-related vision loss is macular degeneration, commonly seen in individuals over the age of 50.
Macular degeneration is the gradual deterioration of the macula, a sensitive part of the retina located at the back of your eye. The macula is the middle point between your brain and your vision. When the brain receives electrical signals from the retina, it turns them into images; the macula is responsible for sharpening those images. When this part of your eye gets damaged—as is the case with macular degeneration—the image will be there, but it won’t be clear.
There are two forms of macular degeneration: wet and dry. Dry macular degeneration is more widespread, and occurs in three progressive stages. It starts with seeing a blurry spot in the center of your line of vision, and advances to greater vision loss over time. Wet macular degeneration is more advanced, and therefore, more severe. The macula is damaged at a much faster rate because of blood vessels that begin to grow underneath it, causing it to swell. It is also important to note that dry macular degeneration can become wet at any time. In most cases, however, macular degeneration will not cause complete blindness—your peripheral vision remains intact.
The risk of developing macular degeneration rises with age, but research has discovered that what you eat and drink can help save your vision. One study in particular analyzed the diet of over 4,000 men and women between the ages of 55 and 80 to see how it correlated with the development of macular degeneration. Researchers specifically looked at what nutrients and complex carbohydrates the participants were consuming over the course of the study, and then calculated how they affected their macular degeneration risk. The results revealed six nutrients that proved to protect against progression of macular degeneration and vision loss, especially when incorporated into a diet rich in complex carbs: vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Several studies have proven that when you take vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and zinc supplements together on a daily basis, it can slow the progression of advanced macular degeneration by up to 25%. Zeaxanthin and lutein—found in various dark green, leafy plants like spinach and kale—are actually pigments found in the retina (macular pigment). Evidence has shown that it’s possible to raise macular pigment by consuming foods that contain zeaxanthin and lutein—and more macular pigment has been shown to reduce the risk of macular degeneration.
There are several other factors that can affect your risk of macular degeneration. While some of the biological determinants, such as race and family history, are uncontrollable, others can be managed by making certain lifestyle choices that will maintain healthy vision and prevent blindess. For instance, smoking could double your chances of ending up with macular degeneration in old age. On the other hand, exercising and maintaining cholesterol and blood pressure levels can lower your risk. Try incorporating these types of food into your diet for the most benefits.
“Facts About Age-Related Macular Degeneration,” National Eye Institute; https://www.nei.nih.gov/health/maculardegen/armd_facts.asp#1, last accessed May 17, 2013.
George, T., “Zeaxanthin May Decrease Your Risk of Macular Degeneration,” American Macular Degeneration Foundation web site; https://www.macular.org/nutrition/zeaxan.html, last accessed May 17 2013.
“Vitamin E,” American Optometric Association web site; https://www.aoa.org/x11817.xml, last accessed May 17, 2013.