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Sight Savers

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Preventing macular degeneration naturally

As a growing number of Baby Boomers head into their golden years, many notice that their vision isn’t quite as sharp as it used to be. While a decline in visual acuity is normal once they hit retirement, aging also puts them at greater risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD affects the retina¾the paper-thin tissue that lines the back of the eye¾causing the cells in the macula to die. The macula is made of millions of light-sensing cells that enable the eyes to see detail and colors, and to see clearly in the center of our field of vision.

As a result of this damage, AMD can destroy central vision and obstruct your ability to see the details of someone’s face or read a book or a road sign. And, since there is no cure, once the disease progresses there’s no turning back. That’s why prevention is critical.

There are two types of AMD: wet and dry. Ninety percent of all cases are dry macular degeneration, in which the cells of the macula slowly begin to break down. Drusen—yellow deposits under the retina—are early signs of the disease. Wet macular degeneration, on the other hand, occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow behind the macula. These vessels are very fragile and leak fluid and blood, resulting in the scarring of the macula and the potential for rapid, severe damage. Straight-ahead vision can become distorted or lost entirely in a short period of time, sometimes within days or weeks. Wet macular degeneration accounts for approximately 10 percent of the cases, but results in 90 percent of the legal blindness associated with the disease.

Since our eyes are susceptible to damage from free radicals, both those generated inside our bodies and those from exposure to ultraviolet light, research suggests that a diet high in antioxidants can offer some protection against AMD. But adding two key free-radical fighting nutrients to the equation can lower your risk even more.

Sea Buckthorn is a plant rich in proanthocyanidins and carotenoids, including zeaxanthin and lutein. Numerous studies show that these two carotenoids filter harmful blue light and support cellular health in the eyes. Of the 600 carotenoids found in nature, only these two are deposited in high quantities in the retina. Research that appeared in the journal Nutrients found that the proanthocyanidins in sea buckthorn protected the structure of the retina, reduced inflammation, and significantly decreased free-radical damage in the macula area.

OPCs, technically known as oligomeric proanthocyanidins, are bioflavonoids with powerful antioxidant properties. OPCs work by normalizing blood vessel permeability and reducing leakage. In addition to their ability to neutralize free radicals, they also have anti-inflammatory properties and improve circulation within the eye. One of the best sources of OPCs can be found in French grape seed extract. To garner the most benefit from supplemental grape seed extract, look for a tannin-free French grape seed extract that provides low molecular weight OPCs for enhanced absorption.

Sight-saving lifestyle strategies can also help guard against the development of AMD. Eat a diet rich in antioxidants. Adding fruit, berries, and vegetables—especially leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables—to your meals can boost your body’s free-radical fighting ability. Since sunlight increases your risk of AMD, it’s also wise to wear sunglasses designed to block UV and blue light whenever you’re outdoors.

Macular degeneration is the most common cause of blindness among people aged 65 and older, and currently affects approximately 11 million Americans. That number is estimated to double by 2050.


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