Macular Degeneration (MD) is a disease generally associated with ageing that causes a decline in the central vision. Central detailed vision occurs at the macula that is a small area on the retina at the back of the eye. We use our macula for reading, recognising faces, driving, and for common everyday tasks that require detailed central vision.
In some cases, MD advances so slowly that people fail to notice the gradual deterioration of their vision. In others, the disease progresses much faster and may lead to a permanent loss of central vision.
While there is presently no cure for Macular Degeneration, there are steps that you can take to prevent or slow the progress of the disease.
MD is present in 15% of people between the ages of 70-75 and is now the leading cause of blindness and severe vision loss in Australia.
Symptoms of Macular Degeneration
The first signs of MD can be very subtle hence the importance of regular eye health checks with your eyecare professional. Symptoms can include the following:
- Distortion of straight lines causing them to appear wavy or bent.
- Difficulty reading.
- Difficulty distinguishing faces.
- Need for increased illumination.
- Sensitivity to glare.
- Decreased night vision.
- Reduced colour sensitivity.
Risks for developing Macular Degeneration
- Ageing is the greatest risk factor. The prevalence trebles with each decade over 40 years.
- Smokers have a 3-4 times greater risk of developing MD. They also develop the disease approximately 5-10 years earlier than non-smokers.
- Family history is a risk factor. Genes have been identified and linked with MD. There is a 50% chance of developing MD if there is a family history of the disease.
Defence against Macular Degeneration
- Early detection of MD is crucial as some forms of the disease may be arrested with early diagnosis and treatment.
- Regular eye examinations are the key to early detection before vision loss occurs.
- Eat a healthy diet. (See more details below).
- Consider taking a zinc and antioxidant supplement.
- Eye protection against UV damage. This is especially important before MD develops.
- Maintain a healthy weight and get some regular exercise (minimum of a 30 minute walk, three times a week).
- Don’t smoke.
Diet and Macular Degeneration
Diet can help with good eye health and there is a recommended eating program that can lower the risk of Macular Degeneration. Scientific studies have shown that MD responds to antioxidants and other nutrients. This diet simply emphasizes the benefits of vegetables, fruit and fish.
Antioxidants benefit our health by neutralising “free radicals” in the body. The most important antioxidants are:
- Lutein and Zeaxanthin– Found in especially high levels in leafy dark green vegetables (eg spinach) along with sweet corn and orange capsicum
- Vitamin C– Found in citrus fruits, papaya and rockmelon. Or vegetables like capsicum, peas and broccoli.
- Vitamin E– Found in nuts (almonds, pine nuts, brazil nuts), whole grains, leafy green vegetables, broccoli and carrots.
- Zinc– Found in meat, seafood (especially oysters), nuts (cashews, pine nuts, brazil nuts, pecans, almonds) and whole grains.
Omega-3 fatty acids are great for eye health and can be found in fish and shellfish (especially oily fish such as salmon).
Choose low glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrates over high GI carbohydrates to also lower your risk of developing AMD
Eat a healthy well-balanced diet. Include fish at least two times a week and include dark green leafy vegetables. Eat fresh fruit every day, a handful of nuts each week and avoid fatty foods.