Your Lifestyle May Increase Your Risk of Age-Related Vision Loss

Healthy habits may limit risk despite genetic factors
Your Lifestyle May Increase Your Risk of Age-Related Vision Loss

If you already have age-related macular degeneration (AMD), you might think there is nothing you can do about it. You might think the same thing if you know you are genetically predisposed to the vision-loss disorder.

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But recent research shows that people with a genetic link to AMD can lower their risk of developing the condition by changing their unhealthful habits. Other research has shown that people who have AMD might slow down progression of the disease by taking vitamins.

Leading cause of vision loss

AMD occurs when the small central portion of the retina, called the macula, deteriorates. The retina is nerve tissue at the back of the eye that senses light.

AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in people older than age 50 in the United States. Although AMD  usually does not result in complete blindness, it can be a source of substantial visual disability.

If you have AMD, be sure to monitor your eyesight carefully.  You also should visit your eye doctor regularly.

The impact of lifestyle

The first study suggests that genetic and lifestyle factors may work together to contribute to AMD. Led by researchers from University of Wisconsin-Madison, the research was published online recently in the journal Ophthalmology.

The researchers found that women with these characteristics were more than four times more likely to have AMD:

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  • Carried two high-risk genes for AMD.
  • Smoked a pack a day for at least seven years.
  • Physically inactive.
  • Ate a diet with little or no fruits and vegetables.

The researchers say the findings suggest that genes, lifestyle and nutrition work together to control inflammation. Inflammation is a key part of the process involved in development of AMD.

Preventing AMD

The good news is if you are predisposed genetically to AMD, you can take steps to lower your risk of developing the condition, says ophthalmologist Rishi Singh, MD.

“The combination of genetic and lifestyle factors create the risk in patients,” says Dr. Singh. “It’s unlikely you might have it if you take the right interventions to reduce your risk.”

People in the early stages of the disease also can benefit, Dr. Singh says.

“We encourage a lot of our patients to stop smoking if they’re in the early stages of AMD,” Dr. Singh says. “This is because we know that smoking cessation can have a very positive benefit.”

Eating for eye health

Good foods for eye health are high in antioxidants and include:

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  • Papaya, oranges and grapefruit, which are top sources of Vitamin C
  • Spinach and kale, which are packed with lutein and zeaxanthin, two of the best antioxidants for eye health
  • Carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkins, which are high in beta carotene, which converts to Vitamin A

UVA and UVB rays from the sun can cause oxidative stress and contribute to AMD, so it’s crucial to wear sunglasses that protect against ultraviolet light.

Vitamins may help

If eating properly won’t do the trick, consider talking to your doctor about taking vitamins to ease AMD symptoms and risk.

The Age-Related Eye Disease Study shows vitamins such as vitamins C and E can help  people with AMD. Other important nutrients include zinc, copper, lutein and zeaxanthin.

A second study by the group showed that taking certain vitamins in high concentrations can slow AMD’s progression for many people.

However, the study notes, taking these vitamins only slows the disease. No vitamins can prevent it from forming in the first place.

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