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.

Oct 23, 2018 8:02 AM EDT
By Mary West

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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.”


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