The macula is a small area at the back of the eye. It is very important and is responsible for what we see straight in front of us, allowing us to see fine detail for 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 it occurs later in life, it is called “age-related macular degeneration”, also often known as AMD.
It is the most common cause of poor sight in people over 60, but very rarely leads to complete sight loss because only the central vision is affected.
There are two main types of AMD. Both types AMD 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. Many people find that vision slowly deteriorates by gradual central blurring and that the colours fade away 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, which can lead to sight loss. It develops more quickly and accounts for about 10% of cases.
At the moment the exact cause for AMD is not known. 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
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.
Nutrition – Research suggests some vitamins and minerals can help protect against AMD.
Although nothing can be done about age, gender and the genes we inherit, it is possible to control the other more environmental factors that seem to be linked to AMD.
Free radical damage – The risks associated with smoking and sun exposure and a poor diet are thought to be due to free radical damage. Free radicals are highly reactive species which can damage the delicate macula cells. Free radicals occur all over the place. Some are made in the body and others come from our environment. Free radical levels are greatly increased by smoking and excessive sunlight exposure. In a healthy person, eating a healthy diet 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 its defence mechanisms can become overwhelmed, increasing the risk of AMD.
Obesity – Being obese also increases the levels of oxidative stress in the body and research has shown that antioxidant defence mechanisms are often lower in obese people too. In addition, this free radical imbalance increases inflammation within the body. This combination of excess free radical and increased levels of inflammation are thought to promote destruction of two macula protecting molecules called lutein and zeaxanthin. Increases in body fat and cholesterol levels can also mean less of the lutein and zeaxanthin 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. Plus, they’ll be able to recommend particular foods, herbs and supplements that will help to protect you from free radical damage associated with AMD progression.