September is Age-related Macular Degeneration Awareness month, since it is the leading cause of vision loss in the middle-aged and elderly.
AMD is a chronic inflammatory disease that blurs the sharp, central vision you need for ‘straight-ahead’ activities such as reading, sewing and driving. It does not affect peripheral vision and does not cause any pain. Of those aged over 60, it is estimated that 25% have some degree of visual loss because of AMD.
The macula is located in the center of the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. The retina converts light into electrical signals and sends these to the brain. It is the macular region of the retina which is responsible for detailed vision and colour perception. There are two types of the AMD, what they call Dry and Wet.
Dry AMD is more common (not to be confused with dry eye syndrome, which affects the front of the eye), it develops gradually over time and usually causes a mild to moderate loss of vision. Drusen, or small fatty deposits accumulate at the central part of the retina in the tissues beneath the macula, leading to thinning and drying. It generally affects both eyes, but vision can be lost in one eye more quickly while the other eye seems unaffected.
Dry AMD may eventually turn into Wet, which is more serious and the risk of severe sight loss is much greater. It is caused by the growth of abnormal blood vessels under the macula. These abnormal vessels leak fluid and blood into the tissue at the back of the eye, causing a blister to form in the retina. The resulting scar tissue leads first to distortion and eventually to loss of central vision. Wet AMD can rapidly damage the macula and result in a very quick loss of central vision. An early symptom of wet AMD is that straight lines appear wavy.
As with other chronic inflammatory diseases, there is no proven medical therapy for dry macular degeneration, but there are some drug advancements for the wet type, blocking the growth of blood vessel growth. It is interesting to note that although it is not a tumor, AMD – especially the wet type shares some important characteristics; namely the root is in chronic inflammation and both eventually include angiogenesis – i.e. the growth of small blood vessels.
Prevention is currently the only solution and always a better option. If you know that diet and lifestyle factors are the contributors for the development of AMD, it is reasonable to conclude that improving these areas would be beneficial in the long run. Oxidative or free radical damages due to chemicals, smoking, stress and lack of antioxidants (colorful vegetables and spices) in our diet are the sure ways to any type of disease.
It is interesting to note that certain antioxidants are concentrated in the macula, protecting it from the light. These are termed “macular pigments” and include Lutein, Zeaxanthin and the more powerful Astaxanthin. Where do we find these antioxidants? In strong coloured fruits (dark berries), vegetables (especially dark green ones such as kale) and seafoods (salmon, trout and shrimp). Beta carotene from yellow and orange coloured plants and the active form of Vitamin A (retinol) from organic butter, oily fish and liver are also crucial for eye health in general, with Zinc as a necessary cofactor for any processes involving these nutrients. Together they contribute to the normal function of the eye. Supplementing with the combination of these nutrients daily is a convenient way to ensure adequate supply and clinical studies showed such supplements may slow the progression.
Whilst there are certain foods that are strong anti-inflammatories and block new blood vessel formation, the overall variety and quality of our foods and a balanced lifestyle, are the most important.
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