Macular degeneration, also known as Age-Related Macular Degeneration (ARMD), is the leading cause of major vision loss in Australia, responsible for 50% of all cases of blindness. About one in seven Australians over the age of 50 years has some signs of the ARMD.
There is no cure for ARMD, but there are things you can do to reduce your risk or prevent further vision loss. Early detection is crucial as it provides an opportunity to make changes to reduce the progression.
The main symptoms are blurred vision and loss of central vision. This can make it hard to read, do close-up work, judge distances and recognise faces. If you have any changes to your vision, it is important to see an optometrist or ophthalmologist as soon as possible. Don’t assume vision changes are part of getting older.
The exact causes of ARMD are unknown however the main risk factors are age, family history and smoking.
While you can’t change your genes, fortunately there are several lifestyle changes you can make which can help to reduce your risk. These include:
- If you smoke, quit. Speak to your GP, call the Quitline (13 7848) or visit the Quit website.
- Limit intake of saturated and trans fats (found in animal foods and processed foods such as fast foods, pastries, biscuits and many snack foods) and instead choose healthy fats from foods like nuts, seeds, avocado and extra-virgin olive oil.
- Eat fish twice a week, including oily varieties such as salmon.
- Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, including dark green leafy vegetables.
- Ensure you have adequate intakes of vitamin C (good sources include citrus fruits, berries, kiwifruit and tomatoes), vitamin E (good sources include nuts, seeds and wholegrains) and zinc (good sources include nuts, seeds, legumes and seafood, especially oysters).
- Choose lower glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrate foods such as minimally processed wholegrains (traditional rolled oats, barley, freekeh, quinoa), dense wholegrain breads or sourdough, legumes (lentils, chickpeas and dried/canned beans), sweetcorn and many fruits (including apples, pears, citrus fruit and berries).
- Maintain a healthy body weight by balancing a healthy diet with regular physical activity.
If you have been diagnosed with ARMD, a large study called the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) found that a supplement containing specific amounts of zinc and antioxidants (copper, vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein and zeaxanthin) can slow the progression in those in the intermediate stage by 20-25% and reduce the risk of developing advanced disease. However, for those without ARMD or in the early stages, supplements haven’t been shown to be effective, and it is instead best to get these nutrients from your diet. If you are considering taking a supplement, speak with your GP or ophthalmologist first – they can advise on the best supplement to take and make sure there aren’t any interactions with any prescription medications you might be taking.
For more information on macular degeneration and reducing your risk, visit the Macular Disease Foundation Australia.
- Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group. A randomized, placebo-controlled, clinical trial of high-dose supplementation with vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and zinc for age-related macular degeneration and vision loss: AREDS report no. 8 [published correction appears in Arch Ophthalmol. 2008 Sep;126(9):1251]. Arch Ophthalmol. 2001;119(10):1417-1436.
- Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 Research Group. Lutein + zeaxanthin and omega-3 fatty acids for age-related macular degeneration: the Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) randomized clinical trial [published correction appears in JAMA. 2013 Jul 10;310(2):208]. JAMA. 2013;309(19):2005-2015.
- Macular Disease Foundation Australia
- Macular Disease Foundation Australia: Supplements
- Health Direct: Macular Degeneration