Preventing Macular Degeneration
I once stayed in a hotel which had installed a heater at eye level, behind each bathroom mirror. Although the heater itself was invisible, its benefit became clearly visible as I emerged from a steamy shower – a mirror without fog!
People with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) have the opposite experience. A fog gradually sets into their center of vision, as if looking at a steamy bathroom mirror all day long. The macula, the part of the eye’s retina which enables central vision, is highly vulnerable to oxygen’s dangerous side, known as oxidation.
Diagnosing AMD is no longer limited to ophthalmologists at select academic centers. Optometrists now screen for AMD as part of a routine eye exam. Warning signs of AMD can be detected a decade before “one would anticipate the mirrors to fog.”
Although prescription medications are not able to prevent AMD, good foods are! See JAMA December 28, 2005 Vol 294, No. 24. In other words, strategic nutrition is like installing a metabolic heater behind the mirrors of the eye. Consider these installation instructions:
• Eat dark green leafy vegetables daily, because they have the highest concentration of eye-protecting nutrients. I recommend expanding the greens repertoire beyond lettuce, with additions such as spinach, kale, collards, bok choy, mochet, rapini, mustard greens, cilantro, arugula, and herbs including mint, parley, and thyme. Consider drinking daily greens such as the wheat grass served at the local natural food store. Since bottled greens drinks tend to be sugary, expensive and scant in greens (apple juice is usually the first ingredient), I recommend powdered greens which can be added to water, juice or a smoothie. My favorite greens powder is Paleogreens by Designs for Health.
• Eye-protecting nutrients such as beta carotene, lutein and xanthines are fat soluble, which makes them better absorbed from the gut if prepared with butter or cooking oil. A second advantage of preparing greens with oil is that organic, unrefined oils are rich in vitamin E, another key eye nutrient. Cooking oils can also be an excellent dietary source of vitamin E, another eye nutrient.
• Zinc is a trace mineral antioxidant important to eye health. The American diet tends to be low in zinc and modern-life stress spends more zinc. Zinc stores can be measured and replenished using the challenge liquid described in February’s Metabolism Matters.
• It is incorrect to imply that eye health is separate from the rest of the body or that one person’s nutrient needs are the same as another’s. Beware of eye supplement up-sellers! Even eye vitamins “prescribed” by eye doctors are possibly of inferior or unknown quality and can interfere with scientifically proven dietary and multivitamin* interventions.
• Stay tuned. Based on preliminary evidence and ongoing studies, I also recommend people with early AMD take a key antioxidant nutrient, alpha lipoic acid, at a dose of 600mg per day. If it comes to a vote, let the “eyes” have it!