Diet and Nutrition
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2023 | Last updated: May 2023
Good nutrition is important for optimal overall health, including eye health. With age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in particular, there have been studies on various nutrients that can help promote eye health and help reduce the risk of AMD progression. Staying healthy is still important if you have Stargardt disease or myopic macular degeneration, but many of the diet-related studies have been on the effects of diet and nutrition on AMD. Keep this in mind if you decide to alter your diet in any way, and check with your eye doctor to make sure those dietary changes are safe.
AERDS versus AREDS2
The studies most often cited are the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) and a second study, called AREDS2. These studies looked at the effects of certain nutrients on the progression of AMD to advanced AMD.1
The AREDS2 study built upon the original AREDS study by adding the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, omega-3 fatty acids, and also removed beta-carotene and lowered the dose of zinc. Beta-carotene was removed because it slightly increased the risk of lung cancer in smokers; no such increase was found with related nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin.1
Eating foods that are nutrient-rich
While the AREDS and AREDS2 studies focused on nutrient supplementation, it’s still important to eat a healthy, balanced, nutrient-dense diet. Supplementation should not take the place of getting vitamins and minerals from food. A healthy diet is a key factor in maintaining a healthy weight and preventing obesity, which has been associated with a higher risk of AMD.2
If you are at risk for AMD or have AMD, here are some foods you might consider incorporating into your diet as they contain some of the nutrients thought to promote eye health.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids like DHA and EPA are not only important for maintaining the nervous system and immune system, but they also aid in normal visual development and retinal function. Your body does not naturally make omega-3 fatty acids, so you need to get them from outside sources.1,3
While you can get these essential fatty acids from supplements, foods like salmon, tuna, halibut, and snapper are good ways to get these nutrients from food. If you don’t eat any seafood, there are fish oil capsules you can take.
Antioxidants, like their name suggests, inhibit oxidation. Oxidation, or oxidative stress, caused by free radicals can cause cellular damage and lead to disease.4 Antioxidants can help protect cells against free radicals, and help cells repair themselves, promoting health. Vitamins C and E, selenium, and carotenoids like beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin are all examples of antioxidants.4
Green leafy vegetables like spinach are good sources of lutein and zeaxanthin. Both of these have been shown to aid in reducing the risk of chronic eye diseases.3
Vitamin C, which can help slow AMD progression, can be found in many fruits and vegetables, including bananas, oranges, apples, spinach, tomatoes, and peaches. Vitamin E is another antioxidant important for protecting and promoting eye health and is present in almonds, sunflower seeds, peanuts, sweet potato, and fortified cereals.
Zinc is an essential mineral that is found in high concentrations in the eye, especially in the retina and choroid. It also helps vitamin A travel from the liver to the retina, and aids in the production of melanin, which helps protect the eye. This mineral is especially important for people who are at risk of developing AMD, or those with early AMD.3
Foods high in zinc include red meat, chicken, eggs, black-eyed peas, tofu, lobster, pork, yogurt, salmon, and beans.
Determining a dietary and nutritional plan
If you are looking for ways to eat healthier, talk with your eye doctor and your general practitioner. You might also want to consider seeing a dietitian, who can help determine your nutritional needs, consider your eye health and any other medical conditions, and help you construct meal plans based around foods that are most beneficial for you.