How to Prevent Macular Degeneration
Recent research suggests that macular degeneration occurs when there is a depletion of the macular pigment. This new and exciting science in the field means that there may be simple ways to protect oneself from developing the disease.
The macula is an area in the centre of the retina. It produces a naturally occurring protective substance known as the macular pigment. This pigment protects the eye from UV ray damage (particularly blue light damage) and from damage from free radicals. The latter are caused by processes such as oxygen metabolism, or experienced due to pollution.
It has recently been discovered that virtually all people who suffer from macular degeneration experience a thinning of the macular pigment. This is probably due to light damage, combined with an antioxidant deficiency. Healthy eyes exhibit dense macular pigment, strongly suggesting that protecting and building up the macular pigment is necessary to guard against vision loss.
Those at Risk
People at risk for developing macular degeneration include the elderly (risk increases with age,) people with light-coloured eyes, those with a family history of the disease, women, smokers, and people with conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, or other chronic illnesses.
Blue Light Damage
It has long been known that UV rays can cause damage to the eyes. For people at risk for macular degeneration, it's imperative to protect the eyes from UV-A and UV-B light -- in particular, blue light. The macular pigment, which is yellow, is thought to be key in filtering out this blue light, and keeping it from harming the retina. Wearing effective sunglasses can help to keep this light from damaging the macular pigment. Sunglasses need to be 100% UV protective, and they should be polarized to eliminate horizontal glare. They must protect the eye from every angle, so wrap-around or fit-over sunglasses are recommended. In order to block all blue light, the lenses will need to be red, or red-orange.
Among the many damaging effects of smoking is eye damage. The smoke itself has deleterious effects on the eye, as does the constriction of blood vessels that occurs in smokers.
Free radicals may also be produced by bodily processes and exposure to other environmental pollutants. Research indicates that macular degeneration sufferers do not possess high enough levels of antioxidants to fight these harmful effects. High doses of antioxidants have been part of the standard regimen of treating macular degeneration since the 1990s. Preventing macular degeneration may involve ensuring that levels of antioxidants remain high.
Patients With Macular Degeneration
The macular pigment is comprised of three naturally occurring substances: lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin. In recent studies, patients who supplemented their diets with a combination of these three substances found some improvement in the density of the macular pigment. One study showed that pigment improved by up to 40% in six months; these patients reported a noted improvement in vision.
Recipe For Eye Health
In short, developments in the study of macular degeneration are pointing toward preventing damage to the macular pigment by blocking UV rays (especially blue light,) by ensuring that antioxidant levels remain high, and by making lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and raising fitness levels.