The macula is a small area at the back of the eye. It’s responsible for what we see straight in front of us – the fine detail that allows us to engage in activities such as reading and writing, as well as our ability to see colour.
Sometimes the delicate cells of the macula become damaged and stop working. If this occurs later in life, it is called age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
AMD is the most common cause of poor sight in people over 60. It rarely leads to complete sight loss because only the central vision is affected.
There are two main types of AMD. Both types usually involve both eyes, although one may be affected long before the other.
The most common form is Dry AMD. It develops very slowly, causing gradual loss of central vision. Vision slowly deteriorates, experienced as central blurring and fading colours, like the colours fading in an old photograph.
Wet AMD occurs when new blood vessels grow at the back of the eye causing bleeding and scarring, leading to sight loss. It develops more quickly and accounts for about 10% of cases.
The exact cause of AMD is still unknown. However, there are a number of risk factors which have been identified.
Age: growing older makes the condition more likely.
Gender: women are at greater risk than men.
Genetics: a family history of AMD increases your chances of developing the condition.
Nutrition: research suggests that some vitamins and minerals can help protect against AMD. A NutrEval is a comprehensive nutrient check that would highlight any possible nutrient deficiencies. It covers vitamins, minerals, heavy metals, protein – amino acids, essential fats and much much more to help you work out where you need to focus your attention with your diet or supplements or can give you peace of mind you are doing the right things well.
Smoking: smoking has been linked to the development of AMD. It has also been shown that stopping smoking can reduce the risk of AMD developing.
Sunlight: some research suggests that lifetime exposure to sunlight may negatively affect the retina.
Although we cannot control age, gender and the genes we inherit, it is possible to protect our vision by controlling the environmental factors that seem to be linked to AMD.
Free radical damage: The health risks associated with smoking, sun exposure and poor diet are often related to free radical damage. Free radicals are produced by both the human body and its external environment, but levels are greatly increased by factors such as smoking and excessive sunlight exposure. They are highly reactive molecules which can damage delicate macula cells.
In a healthy person, the body is able to mop up the free radicals before they do any harm. However, if we are constantly exposed to high levels or we don’t feed our body the right nutrients through a healthy diet, its defence mechanisms can become overwhelmed, increasing the risk of AMD. Testing oxidation levels shows how much risk you’re at from free radical damage, and whether it’s necessary to make specific changes to help to protect your eyes.
Obesity: obesity increases the levels of oxidative stress in the body, and research shows that antioxidant defence mechanisms are often lower in obese people too. This free radical imbalance increases inflammation within the body. A combination of excess free radicals and increased levels of inflammation are thought to promote destruction of lutein and zeaxanthin – two macula-protecting molecules. Increased body fat and cholesterol levels can also mean less lutein and zeaxanthin can actually get into the eye where they are needed.
Poor diet: a diet high in refined carbohydrates, sugary foods and fat, and low in fruits and vegetables is linked to an increased risk of AMD.
If you have a family history of AMD or are a current sufferer, Smart Nutrition can give you expert advice on how to alter your diet so that it supports the health of your eyes. We can also recommend particular foods, herbs and supplements that will help to protect you from the free radical damage associated with AMD progression.
Gut microbiome: the gathering pace of research in this area means we’re more aware than ever before of the impact of poor gut health on our general wellbeing. This is true of eye health too. Research by Dr Martin Hibberd at the Genome Institute of Singapore and Dr Wolf at Bern University Hospital showed differences in the gut microbiome in AMD patients compared to controls.
If you have any digestive issues or eat a poor diet which can affect the microbiome, a Digestive Stool Test can identify damage. Smart Nutrition’s Consultations can also help you to address imbalances.