Macular degeneration is "starvation of the retina," wrote holistic opthalmologist Robert Abel Jr., in his book
"The Eye Care Revolution."
Eye specialists agree that lifestyle choices contribute to the development of macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older adults.
Risk factors increase with a diet high in refined carbohydrates and unhealthy fats, caffeine and alcohol. Smokers remain at high risk long after they quit. People with blue eyes are more likely to develop macular degeneration, possibly because they don't absorb some important eye nutrients. More women than men develop MD. However, in one study, women who took 250 milligrams of vitamin C daily for 10 years had a reduced risk.
Decreased blood or oxygen supply to the retina contributes to the development of macular degeneration. To improve circulation to the eyes, Dr. Abel recommends taking 10 deep breaths at least twice a day, stretching regularly and walking at least 30 minutes daily. He also urges people to wear protective UV-blocking sunglasses. They don't have to be expensive to work.
Remember, eyes also need fresh water to re-hydrate and a good night's sleep to recover from the stress of the day.
Nutrients that feed the retina are stored in your liver; anything the affects your liver also affects your vision. That includes Tylenol, cholesterol medication and thousands of other drugs that act as photo-sensitizers. Patients with high blood pressure, atheroclerosis and diabetes are at increased risk of developing MD. People with poor digestion, or those who take acid suppressing drugs, may eventually develop MD, because they are not absorbing essential antioxidants.
"When I see an 80-or 90- year-old who does not have cataracts or macular degeneration, I know they don't take much medication," said Dr. Abel.
People who eat fish three times a week may reduce their risk for developing MD later in life, according to findings published in "The Archives of Opthalmology."
Cold-water fish are a rich source of DHA, the most important Omega-3 oil in retinal tissues. Recent research concluded that DHA and lutein taken together increased macular pigment density to greater levels than either supplement alone. Our bodies cannot make these nutrients; they must be supplied through diet or supplements. Lutein is found in fruits, vegetables and eggs. Egg yolk lutein is readily absorbed into the retina, and daily egg consumption did not affect cholesterol levels as reported in the Journal of Nutrition 2006. The yellow pigment of the retina is composed mainly of lutein and its nutritional partner, zeaxanthyin. They act as natural sun filters. Both lutein and the herb bilberry have been shown to improve glare recovery time.
The ground-breaking age-related eye diseases study in 2001 was the first major study to establish that taking antioxidants (vitamins A, C, E and zinc) reduced the risk of vision loss for moderate and severe MD. Additional studies are pinpointing the role nutritional deficiencies play in weakening the eyes.
Eye formulas containing these supportive nutrients are readily available. Look for the most absorbable for of vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol). A small amount of copper should be included in the formula along with zinc to prevent mineral imbalance. Dr. Abel's eye formulations can be found at better health food stores.
You can find out how good your vision is by noticing how long it takes for your eyes to recover from glare. Healthy eyes recover from exposure to bright headlights in about three seconds. Eyes with retinal damage may take as long as fire minutes to recover.
Today there is more hope and real help for people with vision problems. Dr, Abel has this encouraging message: "You can do something about it."
The information in this article is for educational purposes. Consult your physician if you have a medical condition.
Margot Bennett is a licensed nutritionist at Mother Nature's Pantry, located in the Garden Square Shoppes, 4513 PGA Blvd. in Palm Beach Gardens. Call her at (561) 626-4461.