4 Ways Your Diet May Help Reduce the Risk of Macular Degeneration

Choosing certain types of foods may help keep your eyes healthier, longer.

group of vegetables

Updated on January 4, 2024.

If you've already blown out 60 birthday candles, it's time to get extra serious about protecting your eyes from age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

AMD is a progressive disease in the retina affecting people mostly over age 60. It gradually destroys sharp, central vision. There are a number of ways your daily habits can help reduce your risk of developing AMD. These include:

  • Getting regular exercise. 
  • Maintaining a healthy weight, along with healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels. 
  • Quitting smoking (or not starting if you don't already smoke). 
  • Protecting your eyes when you go outside by wearing sunglasses with maximum UV protection or wearing a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Keeping routine visits with an eye care specialist. 

Research also suggests that the nutrients you take in through your diet can also play a role in managing your risk of AMD.

Keeping your eye on nutrition

AMD occurs in two forms: wet and dry. In the dry form, AMD may advance so slowly that people notice little change in their vision. In the wet form, the disease progresses faster and may lead to a loss of central vision in both eyes.

Studies suggest that high dietary intakes of vitamins and nutrients including beta carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and omega-3 fatty acids—as well as vitamin D and zinc—may help reduce the risk of early AMD, especially in people with an inherited tendency toward the disease. Next time you go food shoppping or plan your next meal, here are four tips you can use today to reduce your risk of AMD:

Load up on carotenoids

That means lots of brightly colored veggies like carrots and leafy greens for lutein/zeaxanthin and beta carotene. These nutrients associated with less AMD.

Lay on the omegas

Get your omega-3 fatty acids by sprinkling crunchy nuts on top of your salads. Add a little tuna or salmon on top, too. Diets high in fish oils and nuts have been shown to reduce the risk of AMD. Plus, coldwater fish like tuna, salmon, and sardines also contain appreciable amounts of vitamin D3, another potential AMD stopper.

Consider the glycemic index

Glycemic index (GI) is a system of measurement that describes how quickly the carbohydrates in foods are converted into blood sugar, or glucose. High GI foods (like white rice and pasta and bread made from refined flours) typically lead to a fast rise in blood sugar levels, followed by a sharp drop. Whole grains and non-starchy vegetables that are higher in fiber (like kale, for example) tend to be lower on the GI scale. They are digested slowly and therefore have a smaller impact on blood sugar than highly refined carbs, leading to less severe spikes and drops in blood sugar. 

Research has shown that people who take a low-glycemic-index approach to their meals have a lower risk of both early and advanced age-related macular degeneration.

Look into a supplement

Many AMD studies have used zinc supplements to reduce risk of the disease, but check with your healthcare provider before taking zinc. If you'd like to get more zinc through diet, add sunflower seeds and kidney beans to your green salads. A supplement with B vitamins (folic acid, B6, and B12) may be beneficial as well.

Article sources open article sources

Chiu CJ, Milton RC, Gensler G, Taylor A. Association between dietary glycemic index and age-related macular degeneration in nondiabetic participants in the Age-Related Eye Disease Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;86(1):180-188.

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