When I was 7, I longed for bright blue eyeglasses with wings like the ones my neighbor Sue wore. (She was 9, and ultra-cool.) Much to my disappointment at the time, my vision was perfect. With age, that’s changed: When I hit my forties I reluctantly purchased drugstore reading glasses. Now I need bifocals. Frankly, I’m lucky that, so far, that’s all I’ve had to deal with: more than 8 million Americans—including people I know—are facing a vision problem that can’t be corrected so easily: age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
AMD begins when the macula—the center of the retina, and the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail—starts to break down. This causes cloudy “blind spots” in the center of your vision, which, over time, grow in number and in size, making it difficult to read, drive a car or even recognize faces. AMD is a leading cause of blindness in people over age 60.
Getting older is, in fact, the biggest risk factor for developing AMD; one study found that while the disease is relatively rare in middle age, risk jumps to around 30 percent by age 75. Being female, white or having a family history of AMD also boosts your risk. While some people seem to develop the condition no matter what they do, there are a few lifestyle choices that may help to protect against the disease. For example, smoking appears to increase risk fivefold, so quitting, if you’re a smoker, may reduce your risk. Wearing sunglasses can also help, as light rays from the sun can penetrate the retina and damage its cells—which may explain why a study published last fall found that people who live in sunny areas are more susceptible to AMD. But I’m most interested in the emerging research that suggests eating a nutrient-rich diet may help to prevent the development, or delay the progression, of AMD.
While the signs of AMD may not show up until late in life, much of the damage occurs decades earlier. So what can I eat today to protect my eyes? I did some digging into the research, and here’s what I found. Five foods to help you see more clearly.