This article is written for Evolving Wellness by optometrist, Tim Harwood.

Macular degeneration and cataracts are the most common eye diseases that affect us as we get older. They both lead to a gradual loss of vision which can prevent us from doing certain tasks such as driving and reading. The following explains in simple terms what the 2 diseases are:

Cataracts: Within our eye we have a crystalline lens whose role is to focus light that enters our eye directly onto the retina. This lens is supposed to be completely transparent but with age and certain other factors such as lifestyle and diet, the lens slowly becomes cloudy. If left untreated the lens will become completely opaque causing that eye to be blind. Surgery is however normally successful in replacing the cloudy lens with a transparent artificial implant.

Macular degeneration: The most important part of our eye is the macular as it is responsible for the central part of our vision. The macular is part of our retina and is responsible for the very detailed functions of our vision including colour perception. As we get older, the cells of the macular begin to show signs of ageing and this leads to a slow but devastating loss of central vision. Unfortunately there is no cure for age related macular degeneration, which is why it is such a significant disease.

How Can My Food Choices Help Prevent These Diseases?

Although the causes of these diseases are not fully understood, it is believed that oxidative processes within the eye play a major role. As our eyes metabolise, oxidative processes occur which leads to reactive molecules called free radicals being produced. These free radicals are known to have degenerative effects on cells within the body and have also been linked with ageing processes within our skin etc.

Within the eye there are two naturally occurring anti oxidants called Lutein and Zeaxanthin and of one their roles is to reduce the amount of damaging free radicals that are produced. Research has shown that a diet rich in these anti oxidants can have a positive effect on decreasing the development of both cataracts and macular degeneration. Although the research does not claim to treat the condition, it has been proven that is can slow down the development of these diseases in some people.

Which Foods Should I Eat and How Much?

It is recommended to eat a minimum of 6mg of these antioxidants as part of your daily diet and the top 5 food sources with the highest amount by concentration are as follows:

  1. Kale: Raw has a higher concentration than cooked.
  2. Spinach: Raw has a higher concentration than cooked.
  3. Turnip Greens
  4. Collards
  5. Lettuce: Romaine or Iceberg

6mg is the combined equivalent of a bowl of these vegetables each day. This may seem like a lot but the best advice is not to worry yourself with eating a specific amount of these vegetables but just to try and include them as part of your daily diet.

If you are someone who has the early signs of macular degeneration you should also consider quitting smoking and ensure that you have adequate sunlight (UV) protection. Both smoking and UV light have been shown to increase the incidence of both cataracts and macular degeneration.

In summary, although there is no miracle cure for age related macular degeneration, having a diet rich in these vegetables will at least give your eyes the best opportunity to combat these diseases.

About the Author

Tim Harwood is an Optometrist based in the UK with over 10 years of experience both in England and Australia. He specializes in laser eye surgery and cosmetic surgery.