The macula is the most sensitive point of the retina, and is about the size of a pinhead. This is where we have the largest concentration of light receptive cells, and therefore where our most detailed vision comes from. There are many conditions which can damage the retina, but here we are going to discuss the most common one, Age-related Macular Degeneration.
Dry AMD usually forms very gradually over a long time and vision may be unaffected for many years. There are some known causes of AMD which we can avoid to help keep our eyes healthy:
Smoking – We all know smoking isn't good for us, but did you know that smokers are 4 times more likely to develop AMD?
Exposure to sunlight – exposure to blue and UV light can cause damage to retinal cells and high exposure is known to be a risk. Even if you have healthy eyes, you should always protect them with good sunglasses and/or a hat as it also protects against other conditions such as pterygium and cataract.
Diet – A diet rich in fruit and vegetables is good for us generally. Normally, advice is that varying the colours of the fruit and vegetables you eat gives you more overall nutrients and a good balance. In AMD, there are particular antioxidents which are found in dark leafy greens (Kale particularly, but also Spinach and Broccoli) that have been identified as protecting the macula in this condition, and more on this below.
Blood Pressure – People with high blood pressure are also 1.5 times more likely to suffer from AMD.
Unfortunately, there are also other factors which are linked that we can't do much about, in terms of genetic risk if other family members suffer, our age, and our gender (being female increases the risk).
The Wet form occurs when blood vessels leak, and these haemorrhages can signficantly damage the retina, sometimes permanently. This form is very agressive and needs urgent medical treatment. Most people who develop Wet AMD are already aware that they have the Dry form, but only 10-15% of them will go on to develop the Wet. Wet AMD tends to get worse faster, and there are more direct treatments for this, mainly using injections to stop the leaky blood vessels. People at risk are often given an Amsler grid to monitor for any visual changes, and are advised to seek professional help immediately. Here you can find a copy of the grid and also how to use it.
As mentioned above, a diet rich in leafy greens has been shown to protect the macula, particularly those rich in Lutein and Zeaxanthin. A study a number of years ago (the AREDS study) proved that taking extra supplements of these compounds can slow or prevent progression of dry AMD. More recently, a follow up study (AREDS 2) investigated whether adding or removing various other compounds made it more effective. The net result of this was that it didn't find a change with additional formulas. The study also proved that the original supplement worked, once again. The exact formula used in the study is available commercially as VitEyes 2 formula and we keep this in store. I would note that this has not been a comparative study against other types of supplements containing very similar vitamins, and it cannot be said to be better than the others, but it has been proven to be effective. Those who smoke, and are on certain medications such as Warfarin are not advised to take this supplement though, so it is always worth checking with your GP before starting.