Maintaining Eye Health
Living with a chronic condition is dynamic; nothing stays the same. As different challenges arise, you go to meet them, and as your condition remains stable or changes over time, you make adaptations to your changing needs. Macular degeneration is a chronic, progressive condition, and living with the condition can mean making changes to a variety of things, such as lifestyle habits – including your diet.
Healthy weight and blood pressure
Obesity and high blood pressure have been associated with AMD, therefore maintaining a healthy weight is important for both overall and eye health.1-3 In fact, one study found that obesity increased the risk of developing late AMD by 32%.3 Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is often associated with obesity and a sedentary lifestyle, and has been linked with lower choroidal blood flow, possibly increasing the risk of developing AMD.4
Not only can regular exercise help reduce your blood pressure, but it can also help with maintaining a healthy weight. Before starting any exercise routine, talk with your general practitioner about whether it is safe for you to do so, and take all the necessary precautions based on any existing visual impairments (i.e., take someone with you, exercise only with a trainer who has experience with low-vision clients, etc). Talk with them about steps you can take for weight loss if needed, and ask about whether a dietician might be a valuable resource.
Diet and nutrition
If you have Stargardt disease or myopic macular degeneration, a healthy diet and balanced nutrition can help promote general eye health and overall health. For age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diet and nutrition can be important as well. There is research to suggest that diet and nutrition play a part in eye health and macular degeneration, and along with supplementation, modifying your diet might help slow down the progression of macular degeneration and promote eye health.1,2,5
A healthy diet
A healthy diet is important for overall health, but especially if you live with a chronic health condition. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables will provide antioxidants, which help foster eye health. Foods like green leafy vegetables, along with foods high in protein and foods with reasonable amounts of unsaturated fat are parts of a healthy diet that can help you maintain a lower weight and boost your immune system and eye health.1
Glycemic index and AMD
The glycemic index (GI) of foods might also be related to AMD risk. The GI is determined by how quickly foods containing carbohydrates are able to raise your blood sugar. If a food has a high GI, it raises your blood sugar more rapidly and abruptly than one with a low GI, and so a mix of foods with various glycemic indices are ideal. Fat and fiber often reduce the GI of a food. A higher GI diet may be linked to an increased risk of early AMD, and diets higher in fiber and lower-GI foods may be associated with a reduced risk of early AMD.6
In addition to eating a healthy well-balanced diet, if you’re at risk for macular degeneration or have already been diagnosed, it’s important to consume certain nutrients in quantities that can be difficult to obtain from diet alone.
AREDS and AREDS2
The AREDS and AREDS2 studies examined individuals with intermediate dry AMD and found that certain nutrients helped reduce the risk of progression to advanced AMD. There was an original formulation from the AREDS study that included vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, zinc oxide, and cupric oxide; however, the AREDS2 study yielded some information that led to modifications of the suggested nutrients.7
The AREDS2 formulation is7:
- Vitamin C (500 mg)
- Vitamin E (400 IU)
- Lutein (10 mg)
- Zeaxanthin (2 mg)
- Zinc (80 mg)
- Copper (2 mg)
This formulation is available as a single pill both over the counter and as a prescription. Before taking these supplements, talk with your doctors and make sure these are safe for you to take. Just because they’re supplements doesn’t mean that there are no potential interactions with medications or medical conditions.
Note: This formulation can vary between different over-the-counter products.
Vitamin supplements and Stargardt disease
With Stargardt disease, your doctor might caution you against taking a vitamin supplement high in vitamin A as too much of it might speed up vision loss and cause more lipofuscin to build up. Lipofuscin is a pigment that accumulates in the retina in Stargardt disease and leads to vision loss.
While diet and nutrition are important in maintaining general health and promoting eye health and have the potential to slow down the progression of macular degeneration, it’s important to remember that it won’t reverse macular degeneration or stop it completely. Food should not be used as a replacement for medical treatment, but rather as part of a well-rounded lifestyle to help preserve your vision and overall health for as long as possible. Talk with both your eye doctor and your general practitioner about how you can make healthy changes and how this might impact your macular degeneration. They’ll be able to provide you with resources for your health journey and may be able to refer you to a dietician if necessary.