The Popeye effectJust as most of the risk factors for AMD parallel those of heart disease, most of the best alternative measures to keep the heart healthy can also maintain eye health. So, reduce your risk of AMD by making a few basic changes in your lifestyle:
* Consume an organic, unprocessed diet that is low in fat, and high in fruit and vegetables.
* Eat brightly coloured fruits and vegetables. People who consume red, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables - which are high in beta-carotene, another antioxidant - are also at low risk of developing AMD (Am J Epidemiol, 1988; 128: 700-10).
* Eat your greens, especially spinach. Deeply coloured foods, such as spinach, collard greens and kale, are particularly rich in carotenoids, especially lutein and zeaxanthin. These nutrients have an affinity for that part of the retina where macular degeneration occurs. Once there, they can protect the retina from damage caused by sunlight (Methods Enzymol, 1992: 213: 360-6). One study found that people who ate spinach every day suffered only one-tenth as much age-related macular degeneration (AMD) as those who seldom ate it. For patients already with the condition, eating spinach prevented it from getting worse (JAMA, 1994; 272: 1413-20).
* Eat more fish. People who eat fish more than once a week have half the risk of developing AMD compared with those who eat fish less than once a month (Arch Ophthalmol, 2000; 118: 401-4).
* Keep your weight down.
* Don't smoke.
* Reduce your alcohol consumption and, when you do drink, favour wine (instead of beer) which, in moderation, appears to protect the eyes (Am J Ophthalmol, 1995; 120: 190-6).
* Take regular exercise, as this can help keep your blood pressure within normal ranges as effectively as many drugs.
* Avoid foods containing salicylates. Not so long ago, the American Heart Association audaciously credited the decline in heart attacks in the US since 1965 to the growing ingestion of artificial flavourings in processed foods (Sci News, 1993; 144: 19). These flavourings, used in everything from crisps to toothpaste, contain aspirin-like chemicals known as salicylates. The typical Western diet includes enough processed foods to provide the equivalent of more than one children's aspirin daily (Health Alert, 1996; 13: 6-7). If you regularly consume such foods alongside a daily aspirin, you will be getting the equivalent of nearly two aspirin daily with no real benefit to your heart or eyes.