One question I am often asked by patients with macular degeneration is ‘Does a healthy diet reduce or reverse sight loss?’ The answer to the question is both simple and complicated. The simple answer is ‘Yes’. Healthy practices always provide holistic benefits.
The longer and more complicated answer plunges us into the great debate around the effectiveness of anti-oxidants and multi vitamin pills and the proposed benefits of the Mediterranean-style diet.
Macular degeneration affects approximately 600,000 people in the UK. It is caused by ageing or ‘wear and tear’ of the retina and can cause permanent sight loss. There is no known cure although there are injection treatments which can reduce damage caused by the wet type of macular degeneration.
The risk of age-related macular degeneration can be cut by more than one-third by eating a Mediterranean-style diet that is rich in fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, and lean meats. For people who eat the equivalent of one apple each day there is a 15% decrease in the risk for age-related macular degeneration; for those who eat the equivalent of two apples each day, there is a 20% decrease. A diet rich in food with a high glycemic index (GI) increases the risk for macular degeneration. High GI foods (GI > 70) such as white rice, white bread and potatoes should be avoided whereas whole grains, lentils, and non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli are beneficial. Lastly, eating oily fish at least once a week is associated with a reduced risk of developing wet macular degeneration.
Specific formulations of antioxidants, vitamins & minerals can reduce the risk of eyes with certain types of macular degeneration from progressing to severe disease by 25% over 5 years. The doses of the individual antioxidants and minerals in these formulation are higher than would be found in a normal healthy diet hence the need for ‘supplementation’. These pills do not remove the need to eat a balanced healthy diet and provide no benefit to the general population for prevention of macular degeneration.