Macular degeneration is loss of central vision as one ages. It is also called aging retinal disease because it impairs reading vision. Macular degeneration is the fastest growing cause of legal blindness in the United States.
Laser treatment can arrest the fast-progressing form of macular degeneration, but does not improve vision or preserve eyesight. Therefore, prevention is the best option.
Are you at high risk for macular degeneration?
If you are over 65, you are at risk, and the risk increases proportionately with age. If you have blue eyes you are at higher risk than those with brown eyes, because blue eyes enable the blue-violet sun rays to penetrate deeper into the eye tissues of the retina, and hence a greater chance of developing macular degeneration. If you are a smoker, you have 2.5 times increased risk than a non-smoker. If you are a sun worshiper, or spend much time outdoors, you are twice as likely to develop macular degeneration.
Given that macular degeneration begins much earlier, from youth through the age of 30 years, deterioration accelerates as aging progresses.
Macular degeneration usually begins in one eye first, and one-fourth patients will develop a weak retina in the second eye as well. This aging retinal disease may have many warning symptoms before it gets worse and becomes full-blown. Macular degeneration symptoms include the following: outlines of objects becoming blurry and wavy; straight lines becoming crooked; shapes of objects becoming indistinct and steamy; much slower reading speed; and a prolonged period of time to adapt when going indoor from a bright outdoor environment. Eye examination indicating lots of solar aging spots on the retina is another tell-tale sign of the development of macular degeneration.
There is little or no cure once the onset of macular degeneration begins. You can retard it, but there is no cure. Prevention is better than no cure. The key to retina health is to keep the retinal blood vessels open, to avoid buildup of cholesterol, blood clots, and calcification.
Nutrition can protect the retina from further damage. Vitamins A and E, and blood thinner can improve vision. Vitamins C and E, and beta carotene, which is a precursor for vitamin A, can reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration. It is therefore important that as you grow older you need mega-doses of nutrients because of poor absorption due to inadequate digestive juices for digestion and absorption.
Zinc can retard the loss of protective melanin pigment of the retina against sunlight damage. In addition, zinc helps the release of vitamin A from the liver. Zinc is an important co-factor in getting vitamin A to the retina. However, it must be understood that zinc in excess of 25 milligrams may lead to deficiency of copper, elevation of LDL (bad cholesterol) levels, cholesterol imbalance – all these may cause further damage to the retina. Adequate zinc, but not too much, enhances the retina health
Glutathione is another powerful antioxidant to protect retinal cells from ultra-violet-A and ultra-violet-B damage. Selenium and riboflavin stimulate the production of glutathione.
Omega-3 fats can improve vision. However, because they can also cause lipid peroxidation (that is, they turn rancid on exposure to sunlight), you need more anti-oxidants.
Nutrition should also include bioflavonoids, which are plant pigments with protective properties against sunlight damage. Foods rich in bioflavonoids include red onions, red grapes, cherries, and citrus fruits.
In short, your diet plays a pivotal role in retina health, and hence the prevention of macular degeneration.
In addition to diet, give up nicotine totally. Reduce your daily intake of caffeine, if you must drink coffee, because it not only interrupts with retinal blood flow but also increases blood pressure, which is bad for the retina.
Aspirin is a blood thinner. It may benefit blood vessel diseases and prevents blockages of oxygen to the brain. However, too much aspirin may cause retinal bleeding, which impairs retinal health.
Macular degeneration is a disease that can be prevented – or at least deferred if you live a healthy lifestyle. Aging is not the cause of degeneration. Retinal disease is a result of accumulative damage to the retina over the years of neglect or abuse, or both.