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Vision Quest: Keep an Eye (or Two) Out for These Foods

By David Grotto, RD, LDN

Young Woman's Eye

Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in those over the age of 65. It is estimated that the numbers of those who are over the age of forty and have blindness or low vision may exceed 5.5 million by 2020. According to AMD Alliance International, Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) affects over 30 million people worldwide aged 50 or over.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a progressive disease process that causes damage to the Macula – part of the retina portion of the eye. Some of the risk factors associated with AMD are not modifiable, such as age, gender, and ethnicity; however, most of the following are something you can do something about and can slow down biological aging if controlled or eliminated:

  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Hypertension
  • Elevated inflammatory markers – C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin 6 (IL-6)

Cataracts are also afflicting aging Americans; nearly half of those age 65 and older already have them. Cataracts are abnormally clumped proteins that occur in the lens portion of the eye and cause ‘clouded’ vision. The majority of cataracts is associated with the aging process and can occur in either or both eyes. The clumped proteins give a yellow to brownish appearance to the lens. Like macular degeneration, cataracts are due to the aging process and are associated with many of the risk factors above, along with alcohol abuse and excessive exposure to the sun.

Both eye conditions benefit from avoiding diets high in saturated and trans fat. Observational studies suggest that diets that are rich in fruits and vegetables (especially the yellow and leafy green variety) help decrease the risk of AMD and cataracts.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin – these plant chemicals are highly concentrated in the macula and work as potent antioxidants that protect eyes from free radical damage. Eating fruits and vegetables that are high in lutein and zeaxanthin have been found to increase their concentration in the blood and in the eye. Unfortunately, the average American only consumes 1/6 of the amount recommended to prevent eye disease. The good news is that these nutrients are abundant in foods such as:

  • Kale, Collard Greens, and Spinach
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Egg yolks
  • Corn
  • Avocado
  • Pistachios
  • Goji berries
  • Orange peppers
  • Kiwi
  • Grapes
  • Orange juice
  • Squash (zucchini)

Eating fatty fish may also help. According to the EUREYE study featured in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who ate fatty fish at least once a week were fifty-percent less likely to develop AMD. Those who consumed four ounces of fatty fish or more per day were seventy-percent less likely to experience AMD.

Also get plenty of rest, exercise, and wear protective eyewear that shields you from the sun’s damaging rays. You may also want to consult with your eye doctor about taking a formulation that provides plenty of lutein, zeaxanthin, and other key nutrients that support eye health, especially if you don’t eat many of the foods listed above. We both need your eyes to be in great shape to read future Real Life Nutrition posts!

Photo: Photodisc

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