Vision problems are becoming increasingly common as the nation's 78 million Baby Boomers grow ever older and grayer. In fact, more than half of Americans are worried about losing their eyesight as they age, a new study shows. But a few simple steps can greatly reduce the risks of age-related vision loss and blindness.
Best-selling author Michael Roizen, M.D. — co-founder of RealAge.com and chief wellness officer at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic — tells Newsmax Health eating a nutritious diet and getting enough exercise aren't only good for your heart, brain, and overall well-being. These healthy habits also boost the odds of keeping your eyes eagle-sharp as you rack up those birthdays.
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"The great news is that you can slow the progression of [vision loss]," says Dr. Roizen, a former Food and Drug Administration advisory committee chair who also co-writes a syndicated column with Dr. Mehmet Oz. "In fact, [you can] stop it almost, with some nutrients and couple other easy things, such as wearing tinted lenses and avoiding smoke and secondhand smoke."
Dr. Roizen notes that age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness among seniors. It develops when the macula — the central part of the tissue that lines the retina — is damaged.
The "dry" form of AMD affects 90 percent of those with AMD, causing a gradual vision loss. People with dry AMD experience blurred vision, need extra light to see, have trouble reading fine print or recognizing people's faces, and see colors as less vivid. The dry type of AMD can develop into the "wet" form, which causes sudden severe loss of vision from leaking blood vessels in or under the retina.
There is no cure for AMD, but some treatments may slow the progression of wet macular degeneration, including so-called "anti-VEGF" treatment that controls growth of new blood vessels in the eye that can threaten vision, thermal laser therapy, and photodynamic treatments that destroy blood vessels in the eye that are leaking and damaging vision.
Dr. Roizen notes that smoking, obesity, unhealthy diets, and exposure to ultraviolent light increase the risks of suffering from AMD.
A federally funded research project — the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) — has shown daily certain vitamins and minerals — including vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and the minerals zinc and copper can help slow the progression of AMD.
Dr. Roizen notes that a followup — AREDS2 — this year assessed the potential benefits to adding omega-3 fatty acids (in fish oil),vitamin E and a combination of the plant-based nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin (10 milligrams and 2 milligrams).
"This large study, called AREDS2, said those two nutrients [lutein and zeaxanthin], plus vitamin E and … fish oil … were really key to preserving your macular vision as you got older."
The good news, he explains, is that some green leafy vegetables contain precisely the amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin shown to be beneficial.
"It turns out a cup of cooked spinach a day or a cup of collard greens or [cooked] kale a day — those have almost exactly the right amounts … that you need a day."
"Just jogging a mile a day decreases macular degeneration eyesight loss by about 30 percent," he notes. "Jogging … 3 miles a day was associated with a more than 50 percent [reduction in] eyesight loss. So the things that you do for brain are also good for your heart and also good for your eyes."
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