In order to lower our risk for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), it’s crucial to identify what the risk factors are. Eye doctors understand how AMD develops, and it’s important to know these facts in order to help prevent this disease.
The first factor to understand is that age and environment produce increased free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can damage the macula if they are not dealt with by anti-oxidants that exist in your body. This is the primary reason why one-third of the people over age 75 have AMD.
The second factor to understand is that the damage caused by free radicals results in inflammation, which continues to cause more damage. This cycle continues on and results in a scarred macula, which causes central vision loss.
Therefore, it’s extremely important to interrupt or avoid this cycle of inflammation, which causes damage to the macula. To do this, we need to have a three-part response. We need to decrease our exposure to toxins, neutralize the free radicals that our body produces when exposed to toxins, and decrease the inflammation created by our body’s response to toxins. We can help achieve these goals through relatively simple life-style changes, which address 6 out of the 11 risk factors for AMD.
Top 11 Risk Factors for Developing Age-Related Macular Degeneration
There are six risk factors which we have control over. These six risk factors are as follows:
- Smoking: Smokers have a two-to-three times higher risk for developing AMD than people have who never smoked.
- Artificial fats: Generally labeled “partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils,” these artificial fats are present in many foods and usually in low-fat bakery goods. Bakery products labeled low fat contain artificial fats, which are chemicals produced in laboratories. These chemicals are not food and our bodies can’t metabolize them.
- Sunlight: Blue light from the sun and digital devices can damage the macula.
- A diet high in processed foods and low in fresh vegetables: Processed foods contain vegetable oils containing omega-6 fatty acids, which promote inflammation.
- Uncontrolled hypertension and high cholesterol: Research by the National Eye Institute shows that people with hypertension are 1.5 times more likely to develop wet macular degeneration than people not suffering from hypertension.
- Obesity: People who are significantly overweight have double the risk of developing AMD.
There are five risk factors which we can not control, and these are as follows:
- Advanced age: Studies have shown that people over age 60 are at greater risk of developing AMD than younger people.
- Genetics: Some types of AMD are hereditary. Scientists have discovered a gene variant that regulates inflammation. A genetic predisposition probably accounts for approximately 50% of the cases of AMD in North America.
- Family history: Studies have shown that people who have a parent, child, or sibling with macular degeneration have a three to four times higher chance of developing AMD.
- Gender – AMD is more common in women than in men.
- Race – AMD is more common in Caucasians than other races, but it exists in every ethnicity.
- Eye Color – AMD is more common in people with blue eyes.
What can you do to help prevent AMD?
You can decrease your risk of developing AMD or slow the rate of progression of the disease. Some things you can do are:
- Don’t smoke – and if you do smoke, stop.
- Don’t eat processed foods.
- Don’t eat artificial fats. It’s better to eat bakery products made with real fat, and eat less.
- Do wear sunglasses, preferably with an amber, brown, or orange tint that blocks blue light.
- Do eat lots of dark green leafy vegetables. These vegetables, including kale, spinach, beet tops and collard greens, contain lutein. Lutein neutralizes free radicals that can cause damage to the macula. If it’s difficult to eat these vegetables, you can take a lutein supplement, or a supplement that your eye doctor recommends.
- Do eat lots of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish, fish oil, flaxseeds, and some nuts. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation.
- Do control your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Do exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight.