I Spy

By David Blyweiss, M.D.

One of the most frequent concerns I hear from my patients as they get older is the possiblity of macular degeneration. It isn’t a baseless fear. The sad truth is that one out of every 27 Americans has reduced vision due to age-related macular degeneration (ARMD). Of those, 104,000 are considered legally blind. Could this devastating disease happen to you? Yes. But there are steps you can take now to help prevent vision loss as you age.

The first step is to understand what you are up against. ARMD is caused by deterioration of the retina. While most people don’t experience complete blindness, ARMD often interferes with reading, driving or performing other daily activities.

There are two different types of macular degeneration. The dry form is the most common and occurs when the light-sensitive cells in the center of the retina break down, resulting in a gradual loss of central vision. The wet variety occurs when new blood vessels behind the retina grow toward it and leak blood and fluid. This form of macular degeneration causes a very sudden loss of central vision.

Although the risk of ARMD increases with age, other risk factors include smoking, heart disease, high cholesterol, excessive exposure to sunlight and light eye color. Poor eating habits can also contribute to the disease since a lack of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables can rob the eyes of vital nutrients needed to protect them. Ditto for the fats you eat. Eating large amounts of omega-6 fatty acids (found in vegetable oils) can increase your risk while a diet rich in omega-3s (found in fatty fish, fish oil, walnuts and flaxseed) can lower your chances of developing ARMD.

The carotenoids are among the most important dietary antioxidants that can help lower your risk. Although mom was right when she said that beta-carotene-rich carrots were the key to good eyesight, studies show that two other vision friendly carotenoids are even more effective at preventing macular degeneration. In one study, researchers from Tufts University and the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging found that high levels of the carotenoids, lutein, and zeaxanthin reduced the risk of age-related macular degeneration by 40 percent.

Other nutrients can also help stem the journey into darkness. Researchers at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary tracked 38 people with macular degeneration who took a nutritional supplement containing beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, selenium and zinc. After six months, vision and contrast sensitivity had improved in 88 percent of those who supplemented regularly. For prevention, I recommend taking the following each day:  100 mcg. of selenium; 15 to 20 mg. of zinc; 500 to 2,000 mg. of vitamin C, divided into two to three doses; and 400 to 800 IU of vitamin E.

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Several herbs can also offer protection. Ginkgo biloba may halt or lessen some retinal problems. Clinical studies suggest that taking 120 mg. once or twice a day may help treat vision problems related to macular degeneration. Other studies have shown that flavonoid-rich bilberry may also help stop vision loss and improve visual sharpness. The recommended dosage is 120 to 249 mg. of bilberry twice a day.

Now, I realize that taking all of these individual supplements can be a bit overwhelming. That’s why I’ve developed a comprehensive supplement that gives your eyes all of the nutrients they need. Eagle Eyes contains the vitamins, minerals and herbs I’ve already talked about, plus additional eye-friendly nutrients like fish oil, alpha lipoic acid, and eyebrite. Just three capsules daily can sharpen your vision—even at night—and reduce the odds of vision loss as you age.


References:

Carpentier S. Associations between lutein, zeaxanthin, and age-related macular degeneration: an overview. Critical Reviews of Food Science and Nutrition. 2009;49:313-326.

Fies P. Ginkgo extract in impaired vision–treatment with special extract EGb 761 of impaired vision due to dry senile macular degeneration. Wien Med Wochenschr. 2002;152:423-426.

Parekh N. Association between dietary fat intake and age-related macular degeneration in the Carotenoids in Age-Related Eye Disease Study (CAREDS): an ancillary study of the Women’s Health Initiative. Archives of Ophthalmology. 2009;127:1483-1493.

Rhone M. Phytochemicals and age-related eye diseases. Nutrition Reviews. 2008;66:465-472

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