This week’s blog on The Importance of Nutrition to Your Eyes has been contributed by Dr Luisa Sastre, Specialist Ophthalmologist in Medical Retina
When faced with a diagnosis such as macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy, many of my patients ask me: “Doctor, is there anything else, apart from the conventional treatments that I can do to stop the progression of my eye disease or to prevent it in my other eye?”
Almost every other day, I hear questions such as: “Doctor, I have heard that goji berries have a huge amount of zeaxanthin which can be very good for my macula; should I start eating them?”
Well, macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in men and women over the age of 60, in Europe and the US. And unfortunately (but not surprisingly) diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of the loss of vision among the populations in the GCC countries. So, whatever we can add to the medical and surgical classical approaches to help reduce this problem will be more than welcome.
Although there is some confusion about the relationship between nutrition, lifestyle and eye care (and more high quality research is required), we do have some good evidence available to help guide us on our lifestyle choices.
The main risk factor for macular degeneration is aging (for good reason the full name of the disease is ´age-related macular degeneration´ – AMD). However, we know that a healthy diet could play a significant role in the development of the disease, especially in people who are genetically predisposed to it. There is evidence that certain nutrients protect our body from damaging substances called oxidants. These nutrients are called antioxidants. The antioxidant vitamins that play a role in the health of your retina are:
Other nutrients important for your macula are:
Several studies (AREDS1 and AREDS2 studies), suggest that certain nutritional supplements can slow down the progression of AMD by about 25%. Many ophthalmologists may recommend taking these supplements, if you are diagnosed with dry AMD with medium size or large drusen, or wet AMD. However, it is also widely agreed that if you eat a healthy diet including at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, you should not need a supplement.
I want to emphasise 3 important points:
Firstly, that no supplement is going to ‘cure’ macular degeneration. Supplements are just complementary to the main treatment, which in the case of wet AMD is the injection of certain medications into the eye.
Secondly, that supplements should not be used as a substitute for a healthy and varied diet.
Thirdly, taking antioxidant vitamin C, E or beta-carotene (vitamin A) supplements will not prevent the onset of AMD in people who do not have symptoms of the condition. There is no evidence for the benefit of other supplements, such as lutein and zeaxanthin.
Other measures to be considered in AMD are:
And lastly, when it comes to diabetic retinopathy, nutrition and lifestyle are simply one of the basic pillars of the treatment. Diet and exercise are mandatory in order to maintain good control of sugar levels and this will help prevent serious complications such as macular edema or retinal bleedings. Your endocrinologist or primary care doctor should definitely guide you in this journey.
Live a healthy life!
It is more important to promote health positively rather than to prevent disease.