Dr. Storey Shares Insight on GA and Diet
Age related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common disease of the retina affecting an estimated one in 10 Americans over the age of 50. Advanced AMD can result in geographic atrophy, which is characterized by loss of retinal tissue.
AMD is one of the many retina conditions that our team of board-certified ophthalmologists and retinal specialists treat frequently.
Geographic atrophy is a chronic and progressive degeneration of the central retina from where our vision for reading and driving comes from. Many people do not have symptoms early in the disease. GA typically progresses slowly but if GA affects the central part of the macula, people can suffer vision loss or even blindness.
AMD and GA are often caused by advanced age and a family history of the disease which are factors that are beyond one's control. However, there are some things that you can do to help minimize your potential risk for it.
One of them is to stop smoking, says Dr. Storey.
“Smoking substantially increases the risk of AMD and is the most important modifiable risk factor for disease progression,” he says.
Another way to help strengthen vision in those with AMD and prevent further damage or the development of GA is to adopt a diet that’s antioxidant-rich, like the Mediterranean diet, favoring foods such as nuts and leafy greens.
Dr. Storey answers common questions on how diet and supplements can help reduce your risk of GA.
Can certain foods and supplements play a role in helping you minimize your risk of developing GA and AMD?
The biggest risk factor for AMD is older age. Genetics also play an important role in the disease. Modifiable risk factors for disease progression include smoking, hypertension and increased body mass index.
A clinical research study, called Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) sponsored by the National Eye Institute investigated risk factors for AMD and the effects of a dietary supplement consisting of high levels of antioxidants, including vitamin A, C, E, Zinc, and Copper. A second study, called AREDS 2, investigated a similar formula with the addition of Omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, and zeaxanthin while removing vitamin A.
Both studies found that for patients with intermediate or advanced dry macular degeneration, the dietary supplement reduced the risk of developing wet macular degeneration by about 25%, although the supplement did not have a significant effect on development of GA.
Population studies have found that eating green leafy vegetables, like spinach or kale, and fish is associated with a decreased risk of macular degeneration.
I always tell my patients that the most important actions to reduce the risk of progressive macular degeneration are no smoking, following a healthy diet with lots of green leafy and colorful vegetables and fish, and taking your AREDS 2 supplement twice a day. While there may be early evidence that other supplements could also decrease the risk of progressive disease, these actions have the strongest evidence to support them.
Patients with macular degeneration should also regularly see a retinal specialist.
Are there any foods/supplements that may help GA once you develop it?
No supplements have been shown to slow the progression of GA. However, I do believe certain lifestyle and dietary modifications and the AREDS2 supplement are certainly worth doing for patients with macular degeneration as GA is only one part of what can cause vision loss with macular degeneration.
What precautions should patients be aware of when taking supplements?
The AREDS 2 supplement is the most widely prescribed supplement for AMD and is generally well-tolerated. If you are taking other supplements or medications, you should speak to your prescribing physician to ensure there are no interactions, although these are quite uncommon.
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