Reading glasses in every pocket, having to hold the newspaper 2 feet away to make out what it says, increasing difficulty driving at night…Certain vision changes we’ve just accepted as a normal fact of aging.
But what if I told you that you don’t have to accept poor vision as an inevitable part of getting older? What if there were a simple plan you could implement to preserve your vision for the rest of your life?
Well it turns out there is a totally drug-free way to keep seeing the world as a 20-year-old, even as you enter your 60s, 70s, and beyond. As you’ll see from a study just presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, we can largely control our risks for one of the most common causes of vision loss in aging Americans: age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
I can still remember when my aunt developed AMD. I was just a kid, but the devastation was not lost on me. Seeing her struggle as she adjusted to her vision loss was heartbreaking. Since AMD was a relatively “new” disease then — meaning it was only starting to be recognized by the medical establishment — doctors had little to offer her in terms of treatment.
I remember even then, long before I began to pursue my own career in medicine, I desperately wanted to be able to help her fix it. Of course I was a kid, and I couldn’t. But maybe that’s why I’m now so passionate about helping my patients preserve and protect their own vision. And why I’m so excited to share with you what I’ve just learned from this new study.
But first, let me give you some background…
How to know if you’re at risk
AMD involves one particular part of the retina — the macula. Located at the back of the eyeball, the macula is very sensitive. It’s filled with cells that pick up on light. The retina translates the light sensed by the macula into electrical signals. Those signals are transmitted to the brain, where the optic nerve renders the light into the images that we see.
We have the macula to thank for our sharp vision from the center of our eyes. Which is why when the macula is damaged, as with AMD, it’s that central vision that suffers. Peripheral vision remains unchanged, but the middle of the field of vision loses acuity. It may become dark or distorted.
Sometimes AMD progresses slowly. So while the blurred area may grow larger, objects may lose some of their vibrancy, and additional “blank spots” may appear, it will take a long time for major vision loss to occur. Other times, AMD is a fast-moving condition that leaves people with seriously impaired vision in one or both eyes.
Now on its own, AMD doesn’t cause complete blindness. But without that essential central vision, people with advanced AMD can’t perform regular, everyday functions so many of us take for granted. They can’t see faces, drive, read or write, or do even basic tasks that require looking at something straight-on.
That’s why it’s so important to recognize the warning signs of AMD early, so you can preserve your vision before it gets to that point. It’s also essential to understand the risk factors so that a) you know ahead of time if you’re prone to the disease, and b) you can take steps to mitigate your risk — as early as possible.
Here are some of the top risk factors for AMD:
- Age over 50
- Gender (women are at higher risk)
- Race (Caucasians have the highest risk)
- High blood pressure
- Poor diet — that’s a big one, and we’ll get into in detail about it in just a second…
Most cases of early AMD can only be detected through a comprehensive eye exam. So don’t neglect your yearly visit to the eye doctor! In fact, if you have a few of these risk factors, you might want to go even more often.
Has the secret to perfect vision been hiding in the supermarket all along?
As in most health issues, I can’t overstate the importance of diet in preventing and treating AMD. I have had overwhelming success in helping patients reverse and halt the degeneration of their macula through a well-designed diet. So I wasn’t surprised when I saw a recent study extolling the virtues of diet in vision health.
Still, it was incredibly validating to see how striking a difference nutrition can make. The study, which looked at the eating habits of 883 people over the age of 55, showed that these three dietary secrets can cut AMD risk by more than a third…
Secret 1: Eat Mediterranean
If it seems like all health roads lead to the Mediterranean diet, it’s with good reason. More and more research points to Mediterranean-style diets — which emphasize fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, healthy fats, fish, and limited amounts of red meat and butter — as the foundation of good health.
And eye health is no exception, it seems. The study found that the people who adhered most closely to a Mediterranean diet had a 35 percent lower risk of developing AMD than those who did not follow the Mediterranean diet.
I bet they would have gotten even better results if they had followed my A-List Diet, which takes the Mediterranean diet a step further by cutting back on sugar intake and tailoring proteins to individual needs. More on that shortly…
First let’s look at the next secret revealed by the study.
Secret 2: Eat your fruits and veggies
The people who consumed the most fruit — 5 ounces or more per day — were 15 percent less likely to develop AMD. Which makes sense, since fruits represent the highest antioxidant source for most people. And we know that antioxidants are essential for eye health.
But again, I bet results would have been even better if the people had gotten their antioxidants from vegetables and other low-sugar sources, rather than fruit. Still, it’s good to have this information as a basis, and know that we can improve on its findings.
Secret 3: Have a cup of coffee
Other measures of antioxidants — the amount of caffeine, beta-carotene, and vitamins C and E people consumed — also was linked to lower rates of AMD. Caffeine specifically is interesting, since so many people feel guilty about it and consider it a “vice”. But in this study, the people who consumed higher amounts of caffeine (roughly the equivalent of one shot per day of espresso) were less likely to have AMD.
So there’s no need to feel guilty about your morning cup of coffee. (But please cut out any sugar you put in it!)
How to supercharge the Mediterranean diet
On the surface, these three dietary approaches look incredibly effective at preventing AMD. And I believe they are. But I also believe we can take them a step further.
First, let’s talk antioxidants. Vitamin C is abundant in red peppers, kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli — just to name just a few. Beta carotene can be found in spinach, kale, and carrots. Vitamin E is in olives, seeds, almonds, mustard greens and many other foods.
So, what’s the fuss about fruit?
Fruit must have the best PR team in the world. Everyone thinks fruit is healthy and that it’s something they should be consuming regularly. And yes, it’s true that fruit has antioxidants…but it also has sugar. And the health risks of sugar cancel out the benefits of the antioxidants.
That’s why I advise people to skip the fruit and get their antioxidants through vegetables, nuts and seeds, or in supplement form.
If you do want to eat fruit, though, make sure you’re choosing the kinds with the lowest sugar content. I have broken them down into the four basic fruit groups to help you remember which ones to eat and how often.
- “Everyday” fruits. These have the lowest sugar content. So they won’t significantly impact your blood sugar — or your waistline. You can enjoy as much of them as you’d like. Everyday fruits include all berries (blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries) and all melons (watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, cassava).
- Once or twice a week. These fruits are still somewhat low in sugar. But not quite as low as berries and melons, so it’s best to limit your intake to just a few times a week. This category includes grapefruit, plums, nectarines, peaches.
- A few times a month. These are some of the most common fruits. Unfortunately, they also have relatively high sugar content. So be careful when it comes to apples, oranges, cherries, grapes, kiwis, and pears.
- Occasional treats. This category is reserved for the tropical fruits. Bananas, pineapples, guava, mango, papaya, passion fruit, etc. They have the highest sugar content of all the fruits. And that makes them a bad idea. Every once in a while is OK. But definitely not on a regular basis.
Obviously, it’s no secret that I’m not a fan of sugar (to put it mildly). But I’m not beating the anti-sugar drum just to hear the noise…
Our nation’s dependence on sugar is at the heart of so many of our health problems — most notably diabetes and obesity. We know that obesity is a risk factor for AMD, and diabetes can cause its own set of vision problems. Including macular degeneration.
So kicking the sugar habit, whether it’s in the form of a banana or a Snicker’s bar, needs to be a top priority in preserving vision.
Nutrients that slam the brakes on AMD
The second part of my approach to AMD is to use targeted supplements. In addition to diet, a few carefully selected nutrients can help you stop AMD—or at least slow it down. One of the most common recommendations, even among mainstream doctors, is what’s known as the AREDS formulation.
The AREDS formulation is named for the National Eye Institute’s Age Related Eye Disease Study. This was a 10-year clinical trial that evaluated the effectiveness of five different nutrients—vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, zinc, and copper.
Results showed that high daily doses of these nutrients can halt AMD progression. That’s why I administer a special IV nutrient infusion to my patients with macular degeneration. Getting nutrients directly into your vein allows your body to tolerate doses that you could never take by mouth. It also facilitates better absorption.
My IV protocol features nutrients from the AREDS formulation (including vitamin C, zinc, and copper). In addition, it delivers large doses of additional minerals — namely magnesium, manganese, chromium, and selenium — and several B vitamins.
But one of the key ingredients is glutathione. That’s because low levels of glutathione can speed up oxidative damage to those light-sensing cells the macula depends on. It can also lead to imbalances in the fluid pressure within the eye. And research has shown that both of these factors are key in the progression of AMD.
The reason I like to deliver glutathione intravenously is that it’s not typically well absorbed through the digestive system. However, I understand that not everyone has access to a doctor who will deliver IV nutrients. If that’s the case for you, there is a new supplement called ME-3 or Reg’Activ™ that can help.
It works differently than oral glutathione. Instead of just dumping the nutrient into the gut where it won’t be well absorbed, Reg’Activ instead helps your body produce glutathione on its own. It’s the only supplement I know that can do this.
Your simple, 7-step AMD action plan
Based on this new study, plus my many years of successfully treating patients with AMD, I have developed an eye health action plan that I recommend for everyone. Especially people who have one or more of the risk factors for AMD that I outlined above.
Here are seven steps to taking control of your eye health and preserving your vision for decades to come.
Lower your computer screen. Place your computer monitor slightly below eye level so you have to look down to focus on it. This causes your eyelids to close slightly, minimizing the surface area and fluid evaporation so your eyes stay moist.
Take vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and zinc. These nutrients have been shown to reduce the risk of macular degeneration by 25 percent.
Cool in moderation. In the car, people tend to let the air conditioning blow in their face. This can drain moisture from the eyes, significantly increasing the risk of corneal abrasions which can lead to blindness.
Take fish oils. In a recent Harvard study, those who had the highest risk for dry eye syndrome consumed the lowest amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Vegetarian? Use algae oil instead — not flaxseed oil, which contains more DHA omega-3.
Wear sunglasses. Protect your eyes from prolonged sun exposure by wearing sunglasses with UV protection. No matter how hot you may look in those Tom Fords, if they don’t have UV protection, buy another brand. Overexposure to UV light can cause cataracts, macular degeneration, and even skin cancer around your eyelids. Look for shades that block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB and 75 to 90 percent of visible light. If you can’t see the screen on your phone, you’ve chosen a good brand. I wear mine even when it’s cloudy, raining, or snowing.
Eat your greens. Kale, spinach and collard greens contain the highest amount of lutein and zeaxanthin, the antioxidants responsible for absorbing harmful blue light.
Have a shot (of espresso)! And don’t forget to skip the sugar.
Paying attention to your eye health is extremely important, especially as you age. But even if you’re young and age-related conditions aren’t on the horizon just yet, these tips are still important. It’s never too early to prevent any illness — particularly one that is as devastating as AMD.