Anti-Aging Nutrition for Eyes
Genetics and aging impact risk of macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma, but certain strategies can help reduce risk and slow their progression.
As people age, they're even more afraid of losing their vision than their memory, says a survey by the American Optometric Association. Risk of potentially sight-robbing eye diseases does increase as we get older. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts and glaucoma are three top concerns. They can affect your quality of life and independence. You can help protect your vision by getting regular comprehensive eye exams and following a healthy diet and lifestyle, including staying physically active and managing your weight.
"When possible, prevention of age-related eye diseases is preferred to treatment and remediation," says Chung-Jung Chiu, DDS, PhD, a scientist in Tufts' HNRCA Nutrition and Vision Research Laboratory. "Many studies have consistently found that diet plays a major role in eye health." Although diet plays a particularly important role in AMD, some evidence suggests nutrition may play a role in cataracts and glaucoma, too.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration:
AMD is most likely to occur after age 60 and damages the macula of the eye. That's the part needed for sharp central vision important for reading, driving and recognizing faces. In the advanced stage, AMD is the cause of more than 50% of cases of legal blindness (no better than 20/200 corrected vision in your better-seeing eye) in the US.
"Current treatments for AMD are costly, can arrest only the neovascular (‘wet’) type of advanced AMD and don’t prevent progression of vision loss," Chiu says. Treatment includes medication (called anti-VEGF) and possibly laser surgery. There are no treatments for the other type of advanced macular degeneration, "dry" AMD, which accounts for about 90% of all advanced AMD cases but progresses more slowly.
Diet. "About 70% of the risk for AMD is due to heredity," says Emily Y. Chew, MD, the deputy clinical director at the National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health. "The good news is that a healthy diet may help offset AMD genetics."
Research from Chiu and his colleagues at Tufts has shown that a Western-style diet - with its high content of foods like red and processed meats, refined grains and sweets - is associated with increased risk of AMD. In contrast, a dietary pattern rich in vegetables (particularly dark-yellow vegetables, leafy greens, tomatoes and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli), legumes, fruit, whole grains and seafood is associated with lower AMD risk.
Supplements. The well-known Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), a large nationwide, placebo-controlled trial, showed that supplementation with certain vitamins and minerals (vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene, zinc and copper) reduced the risk of advanced AMD by about 25% over a five-year period compared to placebo. The study involved more than 3,600 adults ages 55 to 80.
The AREDS study was followed by AREDS2, which tested variations of the original supplement. Instead of beta carotene (which is linked with increased risk of lung cancer in smokers when supplemented), two other carotenoids with strong links to eye health - lutein and zeaxanthin - were used. This substitution was found to be just as effective as beta carotene and avoided the cancer concern, so AREDS2 supplements use lutein and zeaxanthin.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology notes that there is no evidence to support the use of AREDS supplements in people who have less than intermediate AMD. So, check with your eye doctor before taking a supplement.
These develop when proteins in the lens of the eye become damaged, resulting in blurry, hazy vision. Surgical removal is the only available treatment. If untreated, cataracts may lead to blindness.
By age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery. Getting older is a significant risk factor, while genetics may account for about 35% of risk. Protecting your eyes from sunlight is a factor, too.
Diet. Chew says an antioxidant-rich diet is associated with decreased risk of cataract in observational studies, but this hasn't been proven in a trial. Vitamin C has been a focus of age-related cataract research, partly because high amounts of the nutrient are found in the lens and watery fluids that surround the lens of the eye.
Next: Page 2: Glaucoma