Macular degeneration: Prevention and risk factor reduction
Though currently there is no cure for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), it appears there are a number of things you can do to reduce your risk of getting the disease and experiencing AMD-related vision loss.
You should be especially diligent about taking steps to prevent macular degeneration if there is a history of AMD in your family, which has been shown to be a risk factor for the disease.
AMD is the leading cause of irreversible vision loss among elderly people, who slowly lose their central vision. In time, a person with macular degeneration may find it difficult or impossible to read, use a computer or phone, drive, and recognise faces.
10 steps to help prevent macular degeneration
Here are 10 steps you can take to prevent or slow the progression of macular degeneration:
1. Don’t smoke.
Probably the number one way to prevent AMD is to stop smoking. Better still, avoid smoking in the first place.
Researchers in the UK reviewed 17 published studies that addressed the association of smoking and AMD and found that 13 of these studies showed current smokers had two to three times the risk of having AMD than non-smokers.
Also, a study of twins conducted in the United States found that current smokers had a 1.9-fold increased risk of AMD, while past smokers had about a 1.7-fold increased risk, compared with their non-smoking twins.
2. Eat plenty of dark leafy greens.
Research has shown that people who consumed the most dark leafy vegetables that are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin (such as kale, raw spinach and collard greens) had a 43 percent lower risk of AMD than those in the study who ate the least amounts of these healthful foods.
3. Take a daily multivitamin.
If you don’t eat a healthy, balanced diet, it may be difficult to obtain all the nutrients you need from diet alone.
There is no clear evidence at this time that nutritional supplements will prevent macular degeneration from occurring in people who are at risk of the disease.
However, some studies suggest multivitamin supplements containing vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, zinc, copper, lutein and zeaxanthin may reduce the risk of early AMD progressing to a more vision-threatening advanced form of the disease.
It’s possible these same nutrients might have beneficial effect in maintaining overall eye health.
If you are at high risk of developing AMD — or if you simply want to do everything possible to keep your eyes healthy and seeing well — ask your optician which nutritional supplements may be best for your specific needs.
4. Eat more fish.
Several studies have shown benefits of eating fish for macular degeneration prevention.
The same twins study noted above found that individuals who ate more than two servings of fish per week were significantly less likely to have AMD than twins who ate less than one serving per week.
Also, researchers in Australia found that study participants who ate fish at least once a week were 40 percent less likely to have beginning-stage AMD develop than those who reported eating fish less than once a month or not at all.
5. Maintain an active lifestyle.
In one long-term (15-year) study, after considering other risk factors such as weight, cholesterol levels and age, researchers found that people who led an active lifestyle were 70 percent less likely to develop AMD than more sedentary participants in the study.
To be included in the “active” group, participants must have walked at least two miles a day, three times weekly, or performed an equivalent amount of activity.
6. Eat fruits and nuts daily.
A study at Harvard Medical School showed that participants who ate three or more servings of fruit daily had a substantially lower risk of "wet" or advanced AMD.
Other research has shown that eating nuts helped deter progression of early or intermediate AMD to more advanced stages of the disease.
7. Cut refined carbohydrates from your diet.
Diets high in refined carbohydrates (for example, sugary drinks, white bread, baked potatoes, doughnuts and crisps) have been linked to an increased risk of AMD. Replace these foods with fruits, nuts, vegetables and water.
8. Monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Some research suggests controlling your blood cholesterol levels may help reduce your risk of macular degeneration. Cholesterol is a fatty substance that can build up in blood vessels, inhibiting blood flow necessary for maintaining health of eye tissue.
Also, blood pressure control may be important for macular degeneration prevention. Major studies have found a significant link between high blood pressure and development of the advanced, potentially blinding “wet” form of macular degeneration.
9. Wear sunglasses that protect your eyes from UV and blue light.
Though there is no conclusive evidence at this time that exposure to sunlight directly causes macular degeneration, some research suggests at least an association between AMD and cumulative exposure to UV rays and high-energy "blue" light over the course of a person’s lifetime.
To be safe, it’s a good idea to wear sunglasses that block 100 percent of the sun’s UV rays and a significant amount of visible blue light whenever you are outdoors in daylight.
10. Have regular eye exams.
During a comprehensive eye exam, your optician can detect early vision problems and eye health concerns before you notice them, and when treatments can be most effective.
Don’t take chances with your precious eyesight — schedule annual eye exams for you and your family to keep your eyes healthy and seeing well.
Page published in June 2019
Page updated in September 2020