Diet in the prevention of age-related macular degeneration

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Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects approximately 6.5 percent of Americans ages 40 and older and is the leading cause of vision loss among those over 55. Treating the condition is often difficult, but a new prospective study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology offers some hope that diets rich in certain antioxidants, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent early AMD in patients who have a high genetic risk for the disease.

Dr. Lintje Ho and his colleagues at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, recruited nearly 2,200 patients aged 55 or older; the eligible subjects either had no evidence of AMD, or they developed AMD during follow-up. All participants received a comprehensive eye exam at baseline, as well as at three follow-up visits between 1990 and 2004.

What they found was that patients who had the highest dietary intake of zinc, beta-carotene, other carotenoids (lutein/zeaxanthin), and omega-3 fatty acids (most often found in fatty fish) also had the lowest risk for developing AMD. And the good news is that individuals need not consume supplements to get adequate amounts of these nutrients a regular diet commonly provided the necessary daily allowances.

Though slightly surprised by the results, ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross acknowledges that the study was fairly well done. Therefore, he allows that certain nutrients may have a beneficial, even protective effect on the expression of AMD, and it s important to note that dietary ingestion of some of these common nutrients may play a significant role in lowering the risk for AMD.