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Dietary Research and Recommendations

A chronic medical or health condition means that you need to be conscious of your overall health, including your diet. Because macular degeneration is a chronic progressive condition, diet and nutrition can be important factors in maintaining both your overall and eye health.

Research

There is research to suggest that diet and nutrition may have a significant influence on the progression of macular degeneration and overall eye health.1-3 Many experts agree that healthy foods contribute not only to your eye health, but also to your overall health, and may improve factors such as weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol.

Nutritional supplements vs. diet

Certain nutritional supplements, such as the AREDS2 formulation, have been shown to decrease the risk of progression to advanced AMD in certain individuals; however, there is no definitive evidence to suggest that a similar effect can be achieved through diet modification alone, and it is unclear whether diet has a definite effect on the progression of other forms of macular degeneration. More focused studies need to be done before specific food and nutrient recommendations can be made.

The potential risk of high GI diets

One property of the food we eat called Glycemic index (GI) may affect the risk of developing AMD, including early AMD.4,5 Glycemic index (GI) refers to how carbohydrates raise your blood sugar and is divided into three categories: low (1-55), medium (56-69), and high (70 and up).6 Foods with a high GI tend to raise blood sugar higher and faster than foods with a low GI. Therefore, consuming a mix of low and high GI foods is ideal, with an emphasis on low GI foods. Many foods that have a low GI tend to be higher in fiber. High GI diets have been linked to an increased risk of early AMD, retinal damage, and drusen development.4,5 Even after accounting for other AMD risk factors like smoking, a high GI diet was still significantly associated with the development of AMD.

Prolonging the life of retinal cells

In macular degeneration, retinal light-sensing cells and their supporting cells die over time. Researchers have started to examine how to prolong the life of certain retinal and retinal support cells, and have found that it may be related to keeping the mitochondria within those cells healthy. Mitochondria are important organelles that provide energy and help recycle waste products.7 The National Eye Institute recommends that those at risk of developing AMD eat a diet that includes green leafy vegetables, whole fruits, nuts, and omega-3 fatty acids – all of which theoretically help to keep mitochondria healthy by reducing inflammation and providing antioxidants.

Recommendations

While each person is different, the existing research on diet and nutrition has yielded several recommendations in the context of AMD and other forms of macular degeneration:

  • Try to incorporate low GI foods into your diet, like green leafy vegetables, lentils, bran-based cereals, multigrain (not white) breads, beans, nuts, and fish
  • Avoid smoking; if you do smoke, make every effort to quit
  • Maintain a healthy weight

Making healthy changes

While diet and nutrition may have the potential to slow down the progression of macular degeneration in certain individuals, dietary modification alone is not a treatment for macular degeneration. Diet should be regarded as one factor in promoting overall health and wellness, including eye health. Talk with both your eye doctor and your general practitioner about how you can make healthy changes to your diet and improve your nutrition, and how this might impact your type of macular degeneration. Ask them about how these changes can fit into an overall wellness plan, and how you can best implement these modifications into your everyday life.

Jamie R. Herndon | February 2019
  1. American Optometric Association. Nutrition and Age-Related Macular Degeneration. 2018. https://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for-your-vision/nutrition/nutrition-and-age-related-macular-degeneration. Accessed January 4, 2019.
  2. Mayo Clinic. Dry Macular Degeneration. 2018. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dry-macular-degeneration/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350381. Accessed January 4, 2019.
  3. National Institutes of Health: National Eye Institute. Facts About Macular Degeneration. 2018. https://nei.nih.gov/health/maculardegen/armd_facts. Accessed January 4, 2019.
  4. Kaushik S, Wang JJ, Flood V, et al. Dietary glycemic index and the risk of age-related macular degeneration. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2008; 88(4): 1104-1110. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/88.4.1104. Accessed January 6, 2019.
  5. National Institutes of Health. How Diet May Affect Age-Related Macular Degeneration. 2017. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/how-diet-may-affect-age-related-macular-degeneration. Accessed January 6, 2019.
  6. Mayo Clinic. Glycemic Index Diet: What’s Behind the Claims. 2017. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/glycemic-index-diet/art-20048478. Accessed January 6, 2019.
  7. The Discovery Eye Foundation. AMD and a Healthy Diet: How They Relate. 2016. https://discoveryeye.org/amd-healthy-diet. Accessed January 6, 2019.