(NaturalNews) Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss in Americans 60 years of age and older. It gradually destroys sharp, central vision that's needed for tasks like driving and reading and, in time, AMD can lead to total blindness. With Baby Boomers growing older, by 2020 around three million Americans are expected to have late-stage age-related AMD.
That means a huge number of people could have incurable blindness in their future. In fact, AMD is a world-wide health problem and the leading cause of severe vision loss among people over 65 in the developed countries. But two new studies just published in the May issue of Archives of Ophthalmology offer hope this vision-robbing condition doesn't have to be inevitable for many seniors. Good news: researchers have found that regular consumption of fish, nuts, olive oil and other foods containing omega-three fatty acids and avoiding trans-fats may significantly lower the risk for AMD.
In one report, Australian scientist Jennifer S.L. Tan, M.B.B.S. of the University of Sydney's Westmead Hospital and her research team studied 2,454 participants in the Blue Mountains Eye Study, which began in 1992 to 1994. Over the years, study participants filled out a food frequency questionnaire in order to document their intake of various fatty acids. Then, after five and 10 years passed, digital photographs of the research subjects' eyes were taken to study their retinas and check for the development of AMD.
The researchers found that eating just one serving of fish each week was associated with a 31 percent lower risk of developing early AMD. What's more, eating just one to two servings of nuts per week was associated with a 35 percent lower risk of early AMD.
"In conclusion, our findings support the hypothesis that increased intake of omega-three polyunsaturated fatty acids and regular consumption of fish and/or nuts in the diet may protect against the development of early AMD," the authors wrote in the study. They theorize that these healthy fatty acids may protect the eyes by preventing the buildup of plaque in the arteries and by reducing inflammation, blood vessel formation and oxygen-related cell damage in the retina.
In another study reported in the same issue of Archives of Ophthalmology, Elaine Chong, M.D., Ph.D., of the Centre for Eye Research Australia, and colleagues analyzed data from 6,734 people between the ages of 58 and 69. Between 1990 and 1994, the research subjects' intake of nutrients was calculated from a food frequency questionnaire. Then the study participants were studied between 2003 and 2006 to see if they developed AMD. During this follow-up period, 2,872 cases of early AMD were diagnosed and 88 cases of late AMD were also found.
Who were most likely to have late-stage AMD? The people who ate the most trans-fats (usually the result of eating baked goods and processed foods). On the other hand, those who consumed the most omega-three fatty acids were far less likely to have even early AMD.
In this study, fish didn't seem to be the big protector against in AMD -- instead, olive oil was the clear "star" of this research. "Olive oil intake (100 milliliters or more per week vs. less than 1 milliliter per week) was associated with decreased prevalence of late AMD," the authors wrote. "Our findings suggest that people who follow a diet low in processed foods high in trans-unsaturated fatty acids and rich in omega-three fatty acids and olive oil might enjoy some protection from developing AMD."
These studies aren't the first to show that nutrients may protect your sight as you age. Previously, the National Eye Institute's (NEI) Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) found that taking high-doses of antioxidants and zinc significantly reduced the risk of advanced AMD and its associated vision loss. According to the NEI web site, this is highly significant because slowing down AMD's progression from the intermediate stage to the advanced stage can save the vision of many people. Specifically, the AREDS study involved the daily intake of 500 milligrams of vitamin C, 400 International Units of vitamin E, 15 milligrams of beta-carotene, 80 milligrams of zinc as zinc oxide, and two milligrams of copper as cupric oxide.