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Do you have a friend or family member with macular degeneration? Did you recently find out you’re at an increased risk for macular degeneration through at home genetic testing? Do you want to do everything in your power to reduce your risk for this disease? In this article, I’ll discuss what macular degeneration is as well as review 4 easy ways to reduce your risk for this vision-threatening eye disease.
Macular degeneration and genetic testing
You’ve probably noticed the increased popularity of at-home genetic testing in recent years. I’ve certainly noticed this trend in my optometry practice, as these DNA tests are generating a bit of concern among my patients.
Home DNA testing kits, such as 23andMe and AncestryDNA make it incredibly easy to have your DNA tested. You spit in a tube and mail it in for analysis. Several weeks later, you get a report including a list of health conditions you may be predisposed to. The testing will indicate some risk of a particular disease if you test positive for certain genetic variants.
One disease that these kits test for is macular degeneration, which is a progressive eye disease that damages the part of your retina responsible for your central area of vision. This disease can result in significant vision loss and ultimately, blindness.
While genetic testing can provide valuable health information, the results are in no way a medical diagnosis and don’t necessarily mean any cause for alarm. Still, I have patients coming to my office expressing concern over developing AMD because of what they read in their DNA test results.
Besides reassuring my patients that their macular health is good and that it’s very rare to diagnose this disease under 50 years of age, I also like to give them some tips on reducing their risk of AMD. With this in mind, below are my top 4 tips for reducing your risk for macular degeneration.
1) Do not smoke cigarettes
Smoking not only increases your risk for cancers, heart disease, stroke, and many other systemic diseases, but it can increase your risk for AMD as well.
Cigarette smoke can cause oxidative damage, vascular changes, and inflammation that can lead to AMD.
2) Wear sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection
Ultraviolet (UV) and blue light exposure from the sun may increase your risk of developing AMD, especially if you have lighter eye or hair color (because you have less melanin pigment).
Though having more melanin can help protect you from the sun’s damaging rays, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook if you have darker eyes or hair. Everyone should be wearing a good pair of sunglasses with 100% UVA and UVB protection when outside.
As a side note, sunlight is also our biggest source of blue light exposure, far more than our smartphones and other tech devices. Many people are worried that using our smartphones may cause AMD and other eye diseases, but there’s not enough clinical evidence at this time to suggest we need to stop using our tech devices. There are still benefits to buying a pair of blue light filtering glasses, however. I recommend them to patients to help reduce eye fatigue while looking at a screen and to help them sleep better at night.
3) Incorporate more lutein and zeaxanthin in your diet
Lutein and zeaxanthin are two key nutrients that are found in the macula. When consumed, these nutrients accumulate in the macula and help to protect it.
The fruits and vegetables with the highest lutein and zeaxanthin content include corn, kiwi fruit, red seedless grapes, orange juice, pumpkin, zucchini, and other types of squash. Dark leafy greens such as spinach, swiss chard, kale are also great sources of lutein, while orange pepper contains a high amount of zeaxanthin.
Egg yolk also contains a very high percentage of lutein and zeaxanthin, but you may want to consume this in moderation due to its high cholesterol content. Interestingly, carrots don’t rank very high on the list of lutein and zeaxanthin content.
If you’re stumped for recipe ideas, check out this cookbook that contains tasty recipes specifically formulated to help reduce your risk of AMD!
4) Do more vigorous exercise
Multiple studies are showing a correlation between unhealthy lifestyles and an increased risk of AMD. One factor in determining a healthy lifestyle is the amount of physical activity one engages in. This study shows that vigorous exercise at least once a week is associated with a lower risk of AMD.
A good rule of thumb to determine if your exercise is vigorous enough is if you can’t speak more than a short phrase without pausing to take a breath while you’re working out.
While you can’t change your genetic makeup, you can certainly make these lifestyle changes and reduce your risk for AMD. If you have any questions, ask them in the comments below or schedule an appointment with your local eye care professional today!
What do you do to reduce your risk for macular degeneration? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Author bio: Melody Huang, O.D. is a licensed optometrist and health writer. When she’s not educating patients about their eye health, she enjoys writing for a variety of recognized health and scientific publications. You can contact her for writing services at firstname.lastname@example.org.