Lifestyle Changes to Manage Macular Degeneration
If you have been diagnosed with macular degeneration, the following lifestyle changes may help keep your eyes healthy. In some cases, these changes may even slow the progression of 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 retinal vessels, which can hamper blood flow in your eyes. Therefore, you should cut back on high-fat foods. Eat more lean meats, poultry, fish and 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 a lot of fat-filled junk food may increase your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration. These foods often contain vegetable oil, 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.
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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. Remember that since beta-carotene has been linked with a greater risk of lung cancer in smokers, current smokers and recent ex-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 lighting, 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.
Smoking can be harmful to the eye just as it is 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 contributes to overall good health. It helps improve circulation and may increase blood flow to the eyes.
American Macular Degeneration Foundation.
Macular Degeneration Foundation.
A randomized, placebo-controlled, clinical trial of high-dose supplementation with vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and zinc for age-related macular degeneration and vision loss. Archives of Opthalmology. 2001;119:117-1571.
Last reviewed October 2004 by Marc Ellman, MD
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