What is Macular Degeneration?
Many patients ask me about macular degeneration: What exactly is it? Is there a genetic component? Is there any thing I can do to prevent it? In this blog, I would like to discuss how a good diet is not only good for your overall health, but is beneficial to eye health and the prevention of macular degeneration.
Macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease that affects the back of the eye. It can cause blurry or distorted vision, or a total loss of central vision while leaving the peripheral vision intact. Obviously, this could be devastating to a person- not being able to look directly at someone or something. In fact, more people fear losing their vision than dying. Among the important vitamins for the prevention of AMD include vitamin A (which I discussed last month), and vitamins C and E.
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient, meaning that is must be obtained through the diet and can not be made by the body. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant which helps block some of the damage caused by free radicals. These can harm cells, tissues, and organs. Free radicals also play a role in certain age-related conditions. Excellent sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, strawberries, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Unfortunately, orange juice is not a great source of vitamin C because of its high sugar content, which competes with vitamin C for absorption within the body. Vitamin C is water soluble so the body gets rid of what it does not need. High doses of vitamin C appear safe other than a possible upset stomach.
Vitamin E is also an antioxidant which is found in high concentrations around the macula. Studies have shown that high levels of antioxidants including vitamin E can slow the progression of macular degeneration. Foods rich in vitamin E include nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, fortified cereals, and eggs. Eating foods high in vitamin E is not risky or harmful. However, in supplement form, high doses can increase the risk of bleeding, especially in those taking blood thinners such as coumadin or aspirin. Vitamin E has also been associated with increased risk of heart failure in those who already have severe heart disease.
Macular degeneration can be a devastating eye disease. Risk factors include family history and smoking. In addition, it affects primarily white, elderly people. As I have discussed above, a good diet can have a protective effect on the macula. In the future, I will discuss a few more nutrients that are important for optimal retinal health. Also, for those of you who are not aware, I have a retinal camera in my office which takes high quality digital photographs of the back of your eye (including the macula). This is great for baseline photos or for monitoring a new or existing retinal condition.
Thank you for everything and we’ll talk again soon.