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Care for Your Vision - Macular Degeneration
Written By : Mark Rosenberg, MD 
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An aging friend of mine had recently developed macular segeneration and had asked me if there were any recommendations I could make to help save his eyesight. Besides having him see his eye doctor, I suggested a few natural methods but I knew he had waited too long to stop this ongoing disease. Now at 75 regardless of his great physical shape, he lost his ability to read, to play golf, and to do many of the activities he enjoyed.

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in the U.S. in people over 55. Most people, like my friend, are unaware that this eye disease can usually be prevented. Even if you've already got it, there's a good possibility of reversing it, or of halting its progression.

Like many diseases, macular degeneration is the result of unstable oxygen atoms, called free radicals. When they enter your body, they damage your cells-mainly the ones found in the macula of your eyes.

There are actually two forms of macular degeneration. In the dry form (the most common form), the macula develops yellow deposits, or spots, called drusen. At first, it causes dull vision. In the later stages, you begin to lose central vision. Although it is the less severe of the two forms, the dry form sometimes develops into the wet form.

The wet form of macular degeneration leads to loss of vision much more quickly. When blood vessels begin to leak blood and fluid into the retina, scar tissue forms and affects your eyesight. You begin to see wavy lines and blind spots, and you begin to lose the center of your vision, seeing only out of the corners of your eyes.

So how can you prevent this disease in the first place?

First, begin having regular eye exams by an ophthalmologist at age 50. The doctor can detect early stages of macular degeneration, even before you have symptoms.

Second, eat the right foods. The key to both prevention and reversal seems to be a pair of nutrients in the vitamin A (carotenoid) family- lutein and zeaxanthin, both found in leafy green vegetables. If you can eat five servings a week of foods such as kale, spinach or collard greens, you'll get enough of these nutrients.

Since most people have a difficult time eating that much, however, you'll probably need a supplement. I advise all my patients who are over 50 to take a supplement that contains lutein and zeaxanthin. Many scientific studies have provided evidence that these nutrients prevent macular degeneration.

The chart below shows foods with high lutein and zeaxanthin content. The column on the right shows amounts of both nutrients combined, in a 3 ½ ounce serving of each food.

Food Amount of Lutein & Zeaxanthin (mcg)
Kale 21,900
Spinach (cooked) 12,600
Spinach (raw) 10,200
Mustard Greens 9,900
Celery 3,600
Broccoli (cooked) 1,900
Leaf Lettuce 1,800
Peas 1,700

*From Blended Medicine, The Best Choices in Healing by Michael Castleman

Other carotenoids (from the vitamin A family) can boost your chances of prevention, as well. They are all antioxidants, compounds which protect your cells from free-radical damage. So, in addition to the leafy greens, make sure you also eat plenty of orange-colored foods such as carrots, pumpkin, cantaloupe and sweet potatoes.

Try Herbal Support

Studies have shown that two herbal extracts--bilberry and ginkgo biloba- can help stop or reverse vision loss by improving blood flow to the retina. Bilberries also contain a powerful group of antioxidants called anthocyanosides. You can obtain even more of these free-radical fighters by eating lots of blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. Grapes, plums, raisins and prunes also contain anthocyanosides.

Stop Habits That Harm Your Eyes

  • Smoking causes free-radical damage and increases your risk of macular degeneration.
  • Researchers have linked high fat diets and high cholesterol to this disease. Switch to a diet focused on whole foods, and avoid processed foods. Increase omega-3's by eating fish and nuts.
  • Alcohol can damage the macula, so don't drink.
  • Avoid caffeine, which can make the disease worse.
  • Ultraviolet radiation from the sun can damage the retina. So don't go outside without wearing sunglasses.

Don't give those free-radicals a chance to steal your eyesight. Your eyesight is too precious to lose! Begin now to protect your eyes from damage. If you've already started developing macular degeneration, don't give up hope. There's a lot you can do.

Mark Rosenberg, M.D.

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