Many Americans have made the pledge to lead healthier lifestyles this year.  One of the benefits of this pledge could help save their sight, something they may not have thought about.  They may not realize that  the effects of smoking, poor diet and inactive lifestyle can lead to eye disease and significant vision loss and that by establishing healthy habits the risk for blinding eye diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), can be lessened.  Because January was National Eyecare Month and Glaucoma Awareness Month, we focused on two articles: “Understanding the Value of Eye Safety”, and “Are Your Eyes Wide Open When it Comes to Keeping a Check on Them?”  We hope you will review those articles if you have questions regarding this important topic.

The month of February is recognized as “AMD/Low Vision Awareness Month,” so we need to continue emphasizing how very important taking care of our vision is.  AMD is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness for those ages 65 and older.  It usually begins as a loss of central vision, which results in difficulty to read or see fine details.  It affects the macula, which is in the center of the retina.  Over time, the vision loss progresses significantly. Although there is promising research into the disease, unfortunately, there is still no cure.  Risks to middle-aged persons of having AMD is only about 2%, but after age 65, the risk is greater.

However, steps can be taken to reduce the risk.  Quitting smoking is essential to maintain healthy vision.  Research shows that smokers are up to four times more likely than non-smokers to be diagnosed with AMD.  And, non-smokers living with smokers almost double their risk of developing AMD through second-hand smoke.  The World Health Organization names smoking as the only modifiable risk factor for AMD.

Eating a diet filled with green leafy vegetables rich in Lutein can also help lessen the risk of AMD.  Lutein is a naturally occurring molecule found vegetables such as spinach, kale and collard greens. It can also be found in corn, egg yolks and other vegetables and fruits.  Eating foods high in zinc, vitamins C and E, and beta carotene has also been shown to help slow the progression of AMD in some patients, according to the National Eye Institute (NEI).  Frequently eating nuts or fish, such as salmon, tuna or mackerel, may also help reduce the risk.

According to the AMD Alliance International (AMDAI), certain foods should also be avoided, including foods and processed baked goods with high-fat content.  A high-fat, high-cholesterol diet can lead to fatty plaque deposits in the macular vessels, which can hamper blood flow.  Research has indicated that those consuming red meat at least 10 times a week or more were at a 47 percent higher risk for AMD.

The risk of vision loss from eye diseases, including AMD, can be lowered if adults:

  • Control blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Stay active and exercise regularly
  • Get a complete eye exam from an eye care professional
  • Watch their weight
  • Do not smoke

“We all know the steps we should take to take better care of ourselves,” said Hugh R. Parry, president and CEO of Prevent Blindness America.  “What we want to stress is how leading a healthy life can help lead to healthy vision.” 

Keep in mind that you don’t have to grow old to have AMD, but if you take care of yourself as you age, you have a better chance to avoid it.  Some other risk factors include: obesity, family history, gender (females have a greater risk than men of having AMD), and race (Caucasians have a greater risk than African Americans to have AMD).  Prevent Blindness America and the National Eye Institute offer excellent resources for those with low vision problems.  We acknowledge both these programs for sharing this important information.