Five Easy Steps to Shrink Your Risk of Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

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By CK Wilde for 3GenFamily Blog

A Good Friend Remembered

A good friend of ours died the third week of December. We just received a note from his daughter responding to our holiday card. Unfortunately, it never reached him.

We sent cards every year even though we were never quite sure our friend could read the card. AG, now in his 60’s, had worked with my husband some years ago. Macular degeneration wiped out his sight, and his ability to make a living as a computer programmer.

His vision problems were already underway when he attended our wedding 20 years ago. He soldiered on, working from home and adapting his life to his condition.

When his vision decreased to the point that he could not drive, he rode his bicycle for shopping and errands. AG amazed me with insistence on doing things for himself. He was determined to maintain his independence. Eventually, even bicycle riding became impossible.

Women Are More At Risk

While it’s true that women are more at risk of developing macular degeneration than men, AG had two other high risk factors working against him: smoking and high blood pressure. And, based on what we know about his cooking and eating habits, nutritional deficiency was a distinct possibility.

You are also more likely to develop AMD if you are over 60, have a family member who has it, are seriously overweight, have other cardiovasular problems, have light eyes and spend a lot of time in bright sunlight. Whew! We fit in several of those categories. That’s scary.

Five Easy Steps to Healthy Eyes

Fortunately, there are some very easy things you can do right now, no matter what your age is, to prevent Age Related Macular Degeneration from happening to you.

  1. Stop smoking. Not only will you reduce your risk of AMD, you will reduce your risk for a long, long list of health issues. If you still smoke, you know what I am talking about. My annual bout of bronchitis mysteriously disappeared after I quit smoking.
  2. Eat a colorful, balanced diet. Leafy greens, bright colored fruits and vegetables, eggs, lamb, poultry, fish, nuts and seeds and whole grains contain antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that nourish our eyes. The key nutrients are Vitamins A, C, E, Zinc, Selenium, Lycopene, Beta-Carotene, Lutein and its cousin, Zeaxanthin. A recent study found that one egg a day substantially increased the amount of lutein in the bloodstream of post menopausal women in the study with only a very modest increase in cholesterol. Can’t eat that much? Supplements can help, too. Here is a link to the Mayo Clinic’s complete list of supplements for the eyes.
  3. Stop eating processed baked goods. Put down that danish and slowly back away from the table! Ditto for cookies, cakes, crackers and chips. There is evidence that hydrogenated fats double your risk of progressing to advanced stages of AMD. And they are terrible for your cardiovascular system. As an added bonus, you may find that you have an easier time with your weight and more stable blood sugar. My sugar highs and lows are gone. (Yes, I do miss a gooey cinnamon bun every now and then.)
  4. Wear sunglasses that block UVA, UVB and blue light. Do you remember the “BluBlocker” sunglasses ads on TV a few years back? I thought it was just slick marketing. It turns out that yellow or amber tinted glasses block blue light and really do reduce glare so that you see more clearly. Blue light is believed to react with the pigments in the retina to produce free radicals causing waste products to build up in the retina if not cleared out by antioxidants. The studies are mixed on whether blue light causes macular degeneration. It may be that people with light eyes have less protection because there is less pigment in their eyes to block those wavelengths. It makes sense to me to wear UV/Blue blocking sunglasses while out in bright sunlight since UV has been associated with the development of cataracts. Not long ago I bought a pair of sunglasses that were gray instead of amber. I really notice the increased glare compared to my old pair of amber sunglasses. I’m switching back to amber.
  5. Get regular eye exams. If you are over the age of 40, seeing your eye doctor every two to four years is recommended. Over 60 years old, the recommendation for eye doctor visits is every one or two years. (More if you have problems.) There are several tests that the doctor can use to check the health of your retina and the macula (the small part of the retina responsible for clear vision.) If your doctor offers Optomap, make sure to get it. The Optomap is a computerized camera that takes a wide angle picture of the retina. It allows your doctor to get a really good view. It doesn’t require dilating your eyes with drops so that you have trouble seeing for several hours. Because the digital image of your retina is stored in the eye doctor’s computer, he can compare older images with the newest ones to look for changes – much better than working from notes in your chart. With early detection, you can take steps to stop the progression of AMD . . . and keep your sight.