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Reducing Your Risk of Macular Degeneration

by Amy Scholten, MPH

There are no established guidelines for preventing adult macular degeneration. However, the following lifestyle changes may help keep your eyes healthy and reduce your risk of developing adult macular degeneration:

Eat a Diet That Is Low in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol

A diet that is high in saturated fat and cholesterol can cause plaque, a fatty substance, to build up on the macular vessels, which can hamper blood flow in your eyes. Therefore, you should cut back on high-fat foods. Eat more lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, low-fat or nonfat dairy products, and lots of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. Avoid eating fatty meats, fried foods, and full-fat dairy products. Also avoid using lots of butter, high-fat sauces, cheese, and cream.

According to a study in the August 2001 issue of the Archives of Ophthalmology, eating lots of fat-filled junk food may increase your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration. These foods often contain vegetable, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and linoleic acid. They include margarine, chocolate, pies, cakes, cookies, potato chips and French fries and other highly processed, store-bought junk foods.

Eat More Leafy Green and Yellow Vegetables

Two yellow pigments found in the macula, known as lutein and zeaxanthin, are thought to protect the macula from light damage and free radicals. Free radicals are harmful molecules that can damage cells in the body. They come from environmental sources (cigarette smoke, air pollutants, radiation, certain drugs and toxins) and are also produced during normal body processes.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in dark green leafy and yellow vegetables. By eating large quantities of these vegetables, you may slow or prevent the progression of age-related macular degeneration.

Foods high in lutein include: Foods high in zeaxanthin include:
  • Kale
  • Turnip greens
  • Collards
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Corn
  • Lettuce (raw cos or romaine)
  • Peas
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Green beans
  • Tangerines and tangerine juice
  • Oranges and orange juice
  • Okra
  • Celery
  • Tomatoes and tomato juice
  • Carrots
  • Papayas
  • Melons
  • Corn
  • Spinach
  • Collards
  • Oranges and orange juice
  • Lettuce (cos or romaine)
  • Tangerines
  • Peas
  • Green beans
  • Broccoli
  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Carrots

Consider Vitamin and Zinc Supplements

According to a clinical trial published in the October 2001 issue of the Archives of Ophthalmology, antioxidant vitamins and zinc may reduce the risk of vision loss caused by certain forms of adult macular degeneration. In the trial, a high-dose combination of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and zinc, were given to a group of people with intermediate and advanced adult macular degeneration. In those with a high risk of developing macular degeneration, the administration of antioxidant vitamins and zinc reduced their risk by approximately 25%.

Talk to your health care provider or a registered dietitian about vitamin and mineral supplementation. Due to a possible link between beta-carotene and an increased risk of lung cancer in smokers, current and recent smokers should probably avoid beta-carotene.

Protect Your Eyes from Ultraviolet (UV) Light and Blue Light

The primary source of UV light is sun. Other sources include video display terminals, fluorescent lightning, xenon, and high intensity mercury vapor lamps (used for night sports and in high crime areas). Sun and very bright lights can worsen macular degeneration. You should use sunglasses that protect against blue/violet and UV light. You should also use these sunglasses on overcast or hazy days, since you can still be exposed to a lot of UV light. UV protection is also available for clear lenses and doesn't change the color of the glass.

Don't Smoke

Smoking can damage the eyes just like it causes damage to the rest of the body. Research suggests that people who smoke a pack or more of cigarettes per day, or smoke for a long time, have a high risk of developing macular degeneration.

Exercise Regularly

Exercise contributes to overall good health. It helps improve circulation and may increase blood flow to the eyes.

Regular Eye Examinations

Schedule regular eye health examinations. Current guidelines from the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommend the following exam intervals:


  • Newborn to three months
  • Six months to one year
  • Three years (approximately)
  • Five years (approximately)


  • Ages 20 to 29 - at least once
  • Ages 30 to 39 - at least twice
  • Ages 40 to 65 - every two to four years
  • Ages 65 and older - every one to two years

Certain risk factors may dictate more frequent exams: history of eye injury, diabetes, family history, or being an African American over age 40. Consult your eyecare professional for specific recommendations.

Control other diseases

Disease like high blood pressure and diabetes can affect your vision. Work with your health care professional to control these diseases to minimize eye complications.


American Macular Degeneration Foundation.

Macular Degeneration Foundation.

Last reviewed October 2004 by Marc Ellman, MD

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