A Lifetime of Good Sight

December 16, 2010

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in people over the age of 55. Due to aging baby-boomers, increased life-spans and heightened awareness of the disorder, the number of people affected is expected to almost double by 2020. Fortunately, we've learned a lot about what causes macular degeneration and some important preventative measures that can save your sight! Macular degeneration is caused when part of the retina - the interior layer of the eye that transmits light signals to the brain via the optic nerve - deteriorates. The macula is the central portion of the retina that enables detailed and color vision, the vision we use to read, thread a needle, write, even recognize faces. It is a highly specialized part of the nervous system and the eye where the photoreceptors that react to light stimulus and the neurons that interpret and transmit these signals are precisely organized and densely compacted. It is the macula that allows humans to see 20/20, or an eagle to spot a small rodent on the ground hundreds of feet below. There are specific factors that raise your chances of developing macular degeneration. Some risks are presented by circumstances outside of our control, such as aging, family history and genetics. However there are many risks that are directly caused by lifestyle, and paying attention to them can not only greatly reduce the odds of developing macular degeneration. What can you do?
  • Quit smoking - Tobacco smoking is the only environmental exposure unquestionably associated with macular degeneration. The French POLA study (Pathologies Oculaires Liees a l'Age) looked at over 2000 subjects and found that both current and former smokers had the highest risk for developing macular degeneration! Two additional studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined the association between cigarette smoking and the incidence of age-related macular degeneration. Smoking greater than 20-25 cigarettes per day increased the risk by approximately 2.5 times when compared to non-smokers. A study by the British Journal of Ophthalmology in early 2006 reported that people living with a smoker double their risk of developing macular degeneration.
  • Control your blood pressure - Recently published data shows that people with untreated high blood pressure (more than 160/95) were approximately three times as likely to develop macular degeneration than persons with normal blood pressure.
  • Maintain your 'good' cholesterol- A new study has found that patients with low levels of HDL, or "good cholesterol," are more likely to develop the vision impairment. A recent study about the correlation between low levels of HDL found that 2.4 percent of participants between the ages of 21 and 34 showed early signs of the disease. They also found that those with high levels of HDL cholesterol were less likely to show these signs.
  • Keep your weight in check - According to a new study by Britain’s Royal National Institute of the Blind, your risk of blindness increases if you are overweight. In fact, obesity delivers a triple whammy to your health, increasing the risk of developing one of three major causes of blindness: age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and cataracts. Sufferers of obesity are twice as likely to develop macular degeneration and cataracts and ten times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes!
  • Make some important additions to your diet! Try filling your plate full of eggs and spinach! A new study discovered two nutrients found in eggs, corn, broccoli, spinach and other leafy green vegetables can help protect against macular degeneration. In this study, researchers followed more than 4,500 people aged 60 to 80. Those who ate foods full of the nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin had a 35% less chance of developing macular degeneration!
Make these changes now and you'll be able to watch what you eat throughout your entire life!

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