Doctor’s Tip: Eat fruit and vegetables to avoid blindness from macular degeneration
Most of us want to live a long life, as long as we maintain a life of good quality. This includes keeping our vision intact (and our mind).
In developed countries, age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) is the leading cause of blindness in people 55 and older. It currently affects 11 million Americans, and by 2020 it is expected to affect 20 million. Thirty percent of Americans over the age of 75 have it. There two types of ARMD, wet and dry, and today’s column applies to both. Although treatment can slow the progression of visual loss, there is no cure for ARMD.
The retina is located in the back of the eye. The central portion of the retina is called the macula, and is responsible for detailed vision and central vision (as opposed to peripheral vision). The human eye is a good example of how over millions of years, humans evolved to eat plants. On his website nutritionfacts.org, Dr. Michael Greger notes that dietary yellow plant pigments called carotenoids are taken up by the retina. These pigments absorb blue light and protect the retina from sun damage. If diet doesn’t contain enough carotenoids, the retina is damaged, leading to macular degeneration.
Risk factors for developing ARMD are age; family history; certain genetic abnormalities; smoking; obesity; high blood pressure; high cholesterol; and a diet deficient in fruit and vegetables. In his book “Eat to Live,” Joel Fuhrman, M.D. notes that “low carotenoid levels in the macula are now considered a risk factor for macular degeneration” and that “if you eat greens at least 5 times per week, your risk drops by more than 86 percent.”
Lutein and zeaxanthin are two of the carotenoids that are most important in promoting eye health. Here are some examples of micrograms of these phyto (plant) nutrients certain foods contain:
• 1 cup cooked kale, 28,470 micrograms.
• 1 cup cooked spinach, 27,710.
• 1 cup cooked red bell pepper, 13,600.
The egg industry advertises that eggs are a good source of these carotenoids, and eggs do contain some, depending on what the chickens they come from ate. But in reality, the amount eggs contain is minimal. For example, goji berries contain 60 times more than eggs do.
When ophthalmologists diagnose ARMD, they often prescribe pills containing vitamin C, beta-carotene, E, zinc, copper, lutein and zeaxanthin. You certainly want to follow your doctor’s advice if you have a disease like this that can lead to blindness. But you want to do everything you can to stack the deck in your favor, by also eating a variety of fruit and vegetables.
Diabetic retinopathy is another top cause of blindness in developed countries. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented — and if caught early enough reversed — by a plant-based diet. And Dr. Walter Kempner proved in the 1930s that diabetic retinopathy can be reversed with plant-based nutrition.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.