Mediterranean Diet May Help Prevent Macular Degeneration

A new study found eating a diet plentiful in fruit, vegetables and fatty fish, such as the Mediterranean diet, can help protect from an eye disease that erodes central vision.

By Mary West
Oct. 23, 2018 08:02 UTC

Accumulating evi­dence shows the con­sump­tion of a poor diet is a major con­tribut­ing fac­tor to a lead­ing cause of blind­ness — age-related mac­u­lar degen­er­a­tion (AMD).

European researchers found that fol­low­ing the Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) reduced the risk of late-stage AMD by 41 per­cent in peo­ple who were free of an advanced stage of the dis­ease at the begin­ning of the study.

A MedDiet is an energy-unre­stricted eat­ing plan that focuses on nutri­ent-rich foods such as fruits, veg­eta­bles, legumes, nuts, olive oil and fish. Eating food rich in those nutri­ents may help to pre­serve ocu­lar health.- Benedicte Merle, Université de Bordeaux

AMD is a degen­er­a­tive ill­ness that causes a loss of cen­tral vision, which impairs the per­for­mance of every­day tasks like read­ing and dri­ving. Only a few stud­ies have exam­ined the MedDiet’s effect on AMD; some indi­cate it has value only for cer­tain types or cer­tain stages of the dis­ease. However, when these find­ings are con­sid­ered with the results from the lat­est research, the evi­dence clearly shows the diet can help pre­vent the dis­ease.

In the study pub­lished in the jour­nal Ophthalmology, food fre­quency ques­tion­naires from approx­i­mately 5,000 peo­ple were exam­ined. The par­tic­i­pants were enrolled in two pre­vi­ous research projects: the Alienor Study, which explored the link between eye dis­ease and nutri­tion in senior adults, and the Rotterdam Study, which assessed dis­ease risk in peo­ple age 55 and older.

Individuals in the Alienor Study were seen every two years within a four-year period, and indi­vid­u­als in the Rotterdam Study were eval­u­ated and given food ques­tion­naires to com­plete every five years within a 21-year period.

Data analy­sis showed that par­tic­i­pants who closely adhered to the MedDiet had a 41 per­cent lower like­li­hood of devel­op­ing AMD com­pared to those who didn’t adhere to the diet.

Interestingly, the researchers dis­cov­ered that none of the ele­ments of the diet, such as fruits or veg­eta­bles, low­ered the risk of late AMD alone. Instead, it was the entire diet that reduced the like­li­hood of the dis­ease.

A MedDiet is an energy-unre­stricted eat­ing plan that focuses on nutri­ent-rich foods such as fruits, veg­eta­bles, legumes, nuts, olive oil and fish,” coau­thor Benedicte Merle told Olive Oil Times. It also lim­its the con­sump­tion of unhealth­ful foods such as red and processed meats, along with salty indus­tri­al­ized prod­ucts.

The mac­ula, the cen­tral part of the retina, is very rich in omega‑3 polyun­sat­u­rated fatty acids, as well as the pig­ments of lutein and zeax­an­thin. Omega‑3 fatty acids within the mac­ula have neu­ro­pro­tec­tive actions, in addi­tion to prop­er­ties that pre­vent the abnor­mal growth of blood ves­sels. Thus, they help pre­vent degen­er­a­tive reti­nal dis­eases such as AMD. Lutein and zeax­an­thin play an impor­tant role in pro­tect­ing vision by fil­ter­ing the blue light that is toxic to the retina,” Merle said.

Omega‑3 fatty acids are con­tained in oily fish, such as tuna and salmon, while lutein and zeax­an­thin can be found in orange-red fruits and in green leafy veg­eta­bles such as spinach, kale, pump­kins, broc­coli, corn, oranges and berries. Our body is not able to syn­the­size omega‑3 fatty acids, lutein and zeax­an­thin, so they have to be pro­vided by our diet. Therefore, eat­ing food rich in those nutri­ents may help to pre­serve ocu­lar health.”

Just how much fruits, veg­eta­bles and fatty fish should peo­ple con­sume for opti­mal health? Olive Oil Times put the ques­tion to nutri­tion­ist Kelsey Peoples of The Peoples Plate in Ramsey, New Jersey.

Components of a MedDiet cer­tainly cre­ate the per­fect storm for a healthy body,” she said. They are con­sis­tent with the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, which rec­om­mend about 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of veg­eta­bles each day for a typ­i­cal 2,000-calorie diet. The guide­lines empha­size the impor­tance of con­sum­ing a vari­ety of col­ors to ensure con­sump­tion of a wide range of nutri­ents. Eating about one to two por­tions of fatty fish each week can help pro­vide healthy fats and pro­tein. Together, all these pro­tec­tive dietary fac­tors will help keep cells in peak shape and pro­mote long-term health.”


Related Articles