Eating and Living to Keep Your Eyes Young and Healthy

August 19, 2014 Brigham and Women's Hospital

A variety of lifestyle changes can help improve your eye health.

Today’s blog post comes from Dr. Donald B. Levy, Medical Director of the Osher Clinical Center for Integrative Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of visual loss in older adults. Your risk of developing AMD is related to genetics, diet, blood pressure management, smoking, and other factors.

Diet and Exercise

A healthy diet, especially one rich in green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, Swiss chard, and collard greens, along with whole grains, nuts, and some fish, is good for eye health. Regular physical activity and avoidance of tobacco products also is recommended to avoid or slow the progression of AMD.

Dietary Supplements

Certain dietary supplements may help slow the progression of AMD. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) found that daily use of an antioxidant mixture containing Vitamin C (500 mg), Vitamin E (400 IU), beta carotene (15 mg), zinc (80 mg) and copper (2 mg) significantly reduced the rate of progression from intermediate to advanced AMD and decreased the rate of moderate visual loss. A second study, (AREDS2), found a possible benefit from substituting lutein and zeaxanthin for beta carotene among people whose diets are deficient in these nutrients. AREDS2 found no additional benefit from adding the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. Your ophthalmologist may prescribe the AREDS formula if your retina exhibits changes that are indicative of AMD.

Several other nutrients, such as anthocyanins in blueberries, bilberries, or black currants; catechins in green tea, resveratrol, and grape seed and gingko biloba extracts seem promising for reversing oxidative stress and inflammation-associated ocular damage. Whether to take these nutrients as a supplement and at what dose requires further study.

You also should be aware that many multivitamin supplements contain suboptimal doses of the vitamins needed to protect and promote ocular health and reduce your risk of developing AMD.

Consult an Eye Specialist

If you are at increased risk for AMD based on your family history or other factors noted above, visit an eye specialist to receive a thorough and complete eye exam.

Bottom line – a healthy lifestyle with appropriate supplements can lower your risk of AMD, and, as an added bonus, lower your risk of developing heart disease, cancer, and diabetes as well. Talk to your physician before taking any dietary supplement.

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