The Science of Sugar and Macular Degeneration

This is the moment you’ve all been waiting for! In the first two articles in this series, I focused on educating you all a little bit about what sugars are and how they affect our bodies in general. Today, I want to focus on sugar and its effect on macular degeneration. There has been a specific study done on this and it is so interesting!

Eating habits and eye health

Studies on the effect of sugar on macular degeneration are fairly new, as with most studies about macular degeneration. I’ve been reading about this topic a lot myself because of my love of health and nutrition and the curiosity that if healthy foods can stall the progression of vision loss in such a wonderful way, then wouldn’t unhealthy foods do the opposite? How often should I forego that breakfast donut or a leftover slice of birthday cake? Does it really make a difference?

The simplest answer is...over time, yes.

Protecting against macular degeneration

The BrightFocus Foundation is a nonprofit organization that funds and supports leading researchers and doctors in the areas of glaucoma, Alzheimer's, and macular degeneration. In an interview conducted by the BrightFocus Foundation titled “Can Diet Protect Against AMD,” Dr. Allen Taylor was asked questions focusing on diet (including sugar specifically) and its effects on macular degeneration.

Dr. Taylor

Dr. Taylor has been the lead researcher indicating a relationship between sugar and macular degeneration for the last ten years. He is the director at the Laboratory for Nutrition and Vision Research at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. Tufts is a part of the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. Taylor is also an instructor for nutrition, ophthalmology, molecular & chemical biology, and development at Tufts.

Nutrition and macular degeneration

He talks about how age-related macular degeneration (AMD) develops, the nutritional component of this disease, and what new research is showing about ways to delay both the onset and the progression of the disease.1 The study was confirmed in a second study conducted by Professor Paul Mitchell in Australia.2

The research on sugar

  • Dr. Taylor found a “significant association between sugar intake and the risk for the development for large drusen."
  • He found that those who consume a ‘typical American diet’ high in fats and sugar have a ‘much greater risk for macular degeneration’ than those who consume more fruits, vegetables, and fish, such as those that are found in the Mediterranean Diet.
  • Ingesting sugars can be harmful because they result in the production of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs promote inflammation. Excessive intake of sugars has also been linked “not only to AMD, but also to other diseases promoted by inflammation, including cancer, heart disease, and arthritis.”
  • A high sugar diet can significantly change our gut biome (gut bacteria), which has an effect on our overall health. Our gut biome refers to the bacteria, fungi, and viruses living in our gastrointestinal systems. These changes caused by sugar intake can negatively influence diseases like AMD.1

Quick Tip: You can listen to the interview or read the full transcript of Dr. Taylor’s interview here.

Andrea Junge

Up Next: In the last article in this series, I will discuss sugar and weight loss, and why that matters for those of us with macular degeneration...

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