Eye Blog

date: 28/07/2018
category: macular degeneration
tags: nutrition,
macular degeneration, AREDS

One question I am often asked by patients with macular degeneration is ‘Does a healthy diet reduce or reverse sight loss?’ The answer to the question is both simple and complicated. The simple answer is a universally known and often ignored truth. ‘Yes, a healthy, well balanced diet, is always a good idea.’ The longer and more complicated answer plunges us into the great debate around the effectiveness of ‘AREDS’ formulations (a specific combination of anti-oxidants and minerals in a single pill) and the proposed benefits of the Mediterranean-style diet.

Macular degeneration affects approximately 600,000 people in the UK. It is caused by ageing or 'wear and tear' of the retina and can cause permanent sight loss. There is no known cure.

The risk of age-related macular degeneration can be cut by more than one-third by eating a Mediterranean-style diet that is rich in fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, and lean meats. For people who eat the equivalent of one apple each day there is a 15% decrease in the risk for age-related macular degeneration; for those who eat the equivalent of two apples each day, there is a 20% decrease. A diet rich in food with a high glycemic index (GI) increases the risk for macular degeneration. High GI foods (GI > 70) such as white rice, white bread and potatoes should be avoided whereas whole grains, lentils, and non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli are beneficial. Lastly, eating oily fish at least once a week is associated with a reduced risk of developing wet macular degeneration.

The AREDS formulation of antioxidants and minerals reduced the risk of patients with certain types of macular degeneration from progressing to severe disease by 25% over 5 years. The doses of the individual antioxidants and minerals in the AREDS formulation are higher than would be found in a normal healthy diet hence the need for ‘supplementation’. It is also useful to note that the AREDS formulation does not replace the need to eat a balanced healthy diet and that it provides no benefit to the general population for prevention of macular degeneration. It should only be taken if prescribed by an eye doctor specialising in the treatment of macular degeneration.