Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in people over the age of 50. Almost 20% of new cases of blindness in the United States each year are due to age-related macular degeneration. A study appearing in the Archives of Ophthalmology (2008 Oct;126(10):1396-403) indicates that protecting the eyes from sunlight and good antioxidant status reduces the risk from macular degeneration. Researchers measured serum antioxidant levels and assessed lifelong sun exposure in 4,400 participants in the European Eye Study. They found that among the subjects with the lowest antioxidant levels, sunlight exposure was strongly associated with an increased risk of developing macular degeneration.
There are a number of studies that demonstrate the value of nutrition in preventing and, to some extent, treating macular degeneration. A study appearing in Investigative Ophthalmology (1993;34:1134) looked at the diets of macular degeneration patients aged 55 to 80. Consumption of vitamin C and beta carotene was inversely associated with developing macular degeneration.
Research appearing in the American Journal of Ophthalmology (2007; 143(2): 344-6.) shows a connection between high homocysteine levels, low B12 levels and macular degeneration. Levels of homocysteine, vitamin B12 and folic acid were measured in 2,335 subjects in the Blue Mountains Eye Study. Subjects with extremely low vitamin B12 levels and high homocysteine levels could have as high as a four fold risk of developing macular degeneration.
Consumption of fish oil may reduce the risk for macular degeneration. A follow-up to the Age-Related Eye Disease Study appeared in Family Practice News (February 1, 2004:28). The study involved 4,753 subjects aged 55-80 years. Those who consumed fish more than 1 time per week had a 36% reduction in risk of age-related macular degeneration. Those who consumed the highest level of DHA (from fish oil) had the lowest risk for developing the disease.
Zinc seems to be a very significant nutrient for preventing macular degeneration. Research appearing in Geriatric Consultant (May/June 1992;23,28). The study involved 151 subjects who received 100 mg/day of zinc sulfate. After two years the subjects were compared to a control group and it was found that the zinc supplementation had a preventative effect on macular degeneration.
Although more studies should be performed, nutrition is a low-risk, high-gain therapy. It certainly is safe to supplement with zinc, fish oil, B12 and antioxidants. Supplementation and a good diet may go a long way in preventing macular degeneration.