What causes AMD?
Age-related Macular Degeneration, or AMD, usually occurs when the macula, the part of the retina responsible for central vision, starts to become damaged. This can cause your vision to become blurred or can create contrast sensitivity. When it comes to what causes AMD, there isn’t always an exact underlying issue.
Age is thought to play a large role as your vulnerability to AMD increases the older you get, with those over 60 thought to be 30% to be more at risk! However, age isn’t the only factor at play – believe it or not, your gender and genetics can be at play as AMD is thought to have a link to your family history.
When it comes to the last two factors, AMD can feel pretty unavoidable. If your family has a history of the condition, then how are you supposed to escape your genetics? Or your gender, for that matter. Well, the good news is that even if you have a greater risk of developing AMD, it doesn’t have to be a life sentence. There are still plenty of steps you can take to minimise this risk and place the odds back in your corner, as I’m about to explore.
1 – Watch your blood pressure
High blood pressure is a hot topic at the moment and one that I’m sure most of you are already aware of. Unlike AMD, which affects only a slight proportion of the population, high blood pressure is far more widespread, with some sources suggesting that as many as 1 in 3 people suffers from this health issue.1 While the repercussions of high blood pressure are well-known, you may be wondering how exactly it affects your eyes and what it has to do with AMD.
Well, untreated hypertension (high blood pressure) can affect the blood vessels in your retina, which can cause you to develop what is known as Hypertensive Retinopathy. Not only does this affect your vision, but it can also cause inflammation in your macula, which may lead to long-term damage.2 This, amongst many other reasons, is why it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on your blood pressure levels!
2 – Keep an eye on what you’re eating
Similar to high blood pressure, obesity is another health issue that can be related to AMD. Not only do the two conditions often occur together, but obesity also causes other physiological changes, making you more susceptible to oxidative stress which your body is not as able to combat as you grow older. Obesity can also impact your circulation, which means that your eyes also won’t be receiving the nutrients they need to function optimally.3
Rather than focus on what you shouldn’t be eating (I’m sure I don’t need to warn you all about the dangers of transfats, refined sugars and processed carbs!) let’s take a look at the foods that you should be eating and the nutrients that can help to support your eyes. As I discuss in my blog, ‘Good foods for eye health’, antioxidants such as lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin C and beta-carotene should be top of mind here, alongside zinc and omega 3 fatty acids.
You can find beta-carotene and vitamin C in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, or even in our Biotta Carrot Juice. Lutein and zeaxanthin on the other hand, often linger in green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale or even Brussels sprouts. Zinc and omega 3 can sometimes be trickier to obtain, especially if you’re vegan or vegetarian. However, you can still get ALA, a form of omega 3, in plant-based foods such as flaxseed oil, walnuts and chia seeds while zinc is present in foods such as sunflower seeds, cashews, mushrooms and chickpeas.
Here are some of my favourite eye-boosting recipes:
Kale & Avocado Salad Bowl
Carrot & Ginger Soup
Chickpea & Oat Falafel Bites
3 – Exercise
When you think of exercise, you probably think of how it benefits your overall fitness, strengthens your muscles and improves your stamina. However, exercise also has another benefit – it gets your blood pumping and supports your circulatory system. As I’ve already mentioned, a healthy circulatory system ensures that nutrients and oxygen are being sent to where they need to go.
In cases of dry AMD, most of the symptoms occur because your retina is not receiving enough oxygen, which can permanently damage your macula.4 In this instance, exercising can help to boost your circulation, ensuring that your retina gets the oxygen it so badly needs.
4 – Avoid smoking
I probably don’t need to go through all the ways that smoking harms your health but people don’t often consider the impact that smoking has on your eyes. I’ve just discussed that your retina needs a good, healthy supply of oxygen to function properly, however, smoking can cause your blood vessels to constrict, limiting the amount of oxygen-rich blood that can reach your eyes. Smoking is also a major cause of oxidative stress, which can strip your eyes of valuable antioxidants and cause cellular damage to your macula.
5 – Protect your eyes
It’s amazing how much difference a good pair of sunglasses can make but it’s equally incredible how many of us forget all about them! In my blog, ‘The importance of sunglasses’ I list just a few reasons why your eyes need them – UV radiation, like smoking, is a huge cause of oxidative stress and it can also damage your retina, as well as cause other problems such as conjunctivitis. Wraparound sunglasses are best and it never hurts to have a pair on you, even in winter as, although the temperature plummets, the sun can still burn your skin and upset your vision.
6 – Avoid eye strain
Nowadays it’s not just your jobs that revolve around computer screens, it can feel as though your entire life revolves around screens, whether it’s your smartphone, your tablet or your television. This new burst of technology brings with it a fair amount of problems though, not least for your eyes. The blue light emitted by most screens is nowhere near the amount that is exuded from the sun, but over time it can still upset your eyes, causing discomfort, strain and even Computer Vision Syndrome.
Over time, this can take its toll and too much time spent in front of a screen has been linked to the development of AMD.5 Fortunately, there are things you can do to minimise the effects of blue light – you could try using an anti-glare screen or adjusting the brightness of your monitor. You can even do 20-20-20 eye exercises every hour or so to give your eyes and workout and a break.
If you do start to notice any dryness though, I’d definitely try to moisturise your eyes using some natural eye drops, such as our Moisturising Eye Drops. These contain extracts of hyaluronic acid and Euphrasia, helping to support and hydrate tired, dry or irritated eyes.
7 – Try supplements
If you feel you need an extra hand to get all the eye-boosting minerals you need, it might be a good idea to consider a supplement. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, for example, getting the right amount of omega 3 can be a challenge so a supplement might be a good idea. Here organic flaxseed oil may be an option.
Meso-zexanthin is another nutrient that can be problematic. As I mentioned earlier, lutein and zeaxanthin are fantastic carotenoids for your eyes and they’re readily available in plenty of different food sources. Meso-zexanthin, however, isn’t, which is a shame as this nutrient is amazing when it comes to supporting your eye health. As I discuss in my blog, ‘Trust me, I’m Vision Complex,’ though, meso-zexanthin can be found in marigold extract, a key ingredient in our Vision Complex which also contains lutein, zeaxanthin and zinc!
8 – Get regular eye examinations
Arguably the most important thing you can do to support your eyes and prevent AMD is to get regular and consistent eye checks up with your optometrist. That way they will be able to alert you to any weaknesses or problems with your eyes and offer you some guidance about how to go about rectifying them.
It can sometimes be nerve-wracking to book an appointment though, especially if you feel that there has been some deterioration, but it really is the best thing that you can do. It is much better a problem gets picked up now rather than later when there may not be as many options to try.