Macular degeneration (MD) is the most common cause of permanent vision loss in Americans over the age of 60. The macula is the central part of the retina of the eye. All your reading vision, or “fine vision” takes place in the macula. Every time you look directly at something, you are using the macula. In macular degeneration, damage to this critical visual area can result in the loss of the ability to read or to see people’s faces clearly.

There are two basic kinds of macular degeneration: dry and wet. Dry (atrophic) macular degeneration accounts for 90% of all MD where there is an atrophy of the macula resulting in varying degrees of vision loss. Wet (neovascular/exudative) MD is less common but more severe than the dry form. It accounts for 10% of all MD but 90% of all blindness from the disease. This form is characterized by abnormal vessel growth beneath the retina. These vessels can bleed and eventually cause macular scarring which can result in profound loss of central vision.

Risk factors for macular degeneration include: advancing age, smoking, family history of MD, high blood pressure, sunlight exposure, and high dietary intake of fat.

While there is no cure for macular degeneration, recent studies have shown that nutrition can lesson the risk of vision loss from MD. For those patients at risk of developing MD, and especially those who show signs of the disease, it is recommended that they take daily Vitamin A (25,000 IU with 15mg beta-carotene), Vitamin C (500mg), Vitamin E (400 IU), Zinc (zinc oxide, 80mg), and Copper (cupric oxide, 2mg). There are several products available to help preserve macular health: Ocuvite, Vit-Eyes, Icapps, Maxvision, to name a few. Additional research has suggested that the nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as the omega-3 fatty acids might also be useful in preserving the vision of MD patients.

Some precautions should be considered when using dietary supplements. High doses of beta carotene have been associated with an increased risk of lung cancer in smokers, and high doses of zinc can cause prostate enlargement. So, ask your doctor if nutritional supplements might be right for you.


Author: Dr. Bret Harrison

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