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Febuary is Macular Degeneration Awareness Month

Resolutions for Healthy Vision

Don’t give up on those healthy New Year’s resolutions just yet!

Numerous studies point to the importance of healthy habits in the prevention of eye disease.

While it’s true that many conditions, like Glaucoma and Macular Degeneration, have a genetic component; a healthy lifestyle can significantly curtail, and even improve vision as we age.

That’s especially important considering the risk for Macular Degeneration increases with age. The disease is most likely to occur in those 55 and older.

Dr. Carl Kupfer, former Director of the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, has stated that Macular Degeneration will soon reach alarming numbers of aging Baby Boomers.

“As the Baby Boom generation ages, and in the absence of further prevention and treatment advances, AMD is estimated to reach epidemic proportions of 6.3 million Americans by the year 2030.”

The causes of AMD are not fully understood, but it is associated with other risk factors besides aging. Macular Degeneration often runs in families due to a genetic component and is most common among families of European descent. Smoking DOUBLES the risk of AMD.

Other risk factors include high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, obesity and a diet high in fats and low in green leafy vegetables and fish.

What can be done to improve your outlook and reduce the risk of Macular Degeneration and other eye disease?

First, consider the eye is merely 1 inch in diameter – smaller than a ping pong ball! Within this self-contained orb, blood vessels, arteries, nerves, muscles and brain tissue of the retina coexist.

Blood flow to the eye comes from branches of the internal carotid artery, the same artery that supplies blood and oxygen to parts of the brain.

So, it’s no coincidence then that diabetes, heart and brain disorders can dramatically affect visual health.

While nothing can guarantee the prevention of eye disease, two studies point to the importance of diet, nutrition and smoking cessation as proactive, preventative approaches.

A retroactive study published in the American Journal for Public Health (1) reviewed data compiled by the long-term NHS Nurses Study from 1976 and 2016 to understand the genetic and lifestyle factors influencing the risk of cataract, age-related macular degeneration, and glaucoma.

The findings from NHS, combined with those of other studies, provide compelling evidence supporting public health recommendations for the prevention of age-related eye diseases: abstinence from cigarette smoking, maintenance of a healthy weight, diabetes prevention, a diet rich in fruits/vegetables and low in animal fat.

Additionally, comprehensive studies by the National Institute of Health (NIH), titled AREDs and AREDS2, confirm certain nutrients are significant in the progressive reduction of Macular Degeneration (2).

Investigators found that participants who had been assigned the original AREDS formulation in the first trial were 25-30 percent less likely to develop advanced AMD than those who had been placed on placebo. Among participants at the highest risk for AMD, 34 percent who had taken the AREDS formulation in the trial progressed to advanced AMD, compared to 44 percent who had taken the placebo.

The AREDS2 study provides new information about the specific formulations for preventing vision loss from AMD (3) .

The take-away? Small changes can create maximum improvements; whether quitting cigarettes, eating more fruits and vegetables, or taking AREDS vitamin supplements. They can all add up to healthy sight for life!

People age 60+ should get a dilated eye exam at least once a year and discuss whether taking AREDS supplements is appropriate.

1. Am J Public Health. 2016 September; 106(9): 1684–1689.
2. For information about AREDS visit https://nei.nih.gov/areds2/PatientFAQ
3. For information about AREDS2, visit www.nei.nih.gov/areds2.

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