Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) Doesn’t Have to Mean Eventual Blindness

 “Am I going blind?” was the first question I asked my ophthalmologist when I recently went for my annual eye exam.

Because I’m older now, she checks me for typical eye conditions related to aging, such as glaucoma and cataracts. Imagine my surprise when she told me that I needed to get another exam, called optical coherence tomography, which maps the entire retina.

After returning with photographs of the inside of my eyes, she told me that I had the beginning of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This condition is slow to develop and rarely leads to blindness but is irreversible.

I have needed corrective lenses since age 12. Once past puberty, my vision seemed to stabilize. It got worse again as I went through menopause and then stabilized. Without any other vision problems, I was surprised to hear of this recent diagnosis. I needed to know more, so I dug into the latest literature. Here’s what I learned.

What Is AMD?

Our eyes age along with the rest of our bodies. As we age, our eyes become of increasing concern, especially if we wear corrective lenses. According to the National Eye Institute, AMD is a condition for which no current cure exists. Unlike glaucoma, cataract, and even detached retinas, which can be helped by different surgical techniques, macular degeneration has no surgical options. However, several clinical trials are underway that may offer hope for those with this disorder.

AMD is a common age-related condition that leads to vision loss. As of 2019, it affects about 11 million people older than 50 in just the United States. This figure is expected to increase as the population continues to age.

The macula is the light-sensitive part in the center of your retina, giving you clarity for daily visual tasks. Because AMD develops in that area, you may first notice difficulty in reading, driving, or doing close detailed work. AMD can develop in one or both eyes.

The cause of AMD isn’t known, although scientists believe that it develops from a combination of genetic and environmental factors, aging, chronic inflammation, and oxidative stress. Being aware of your risks can help prevent AMD from occurring.

If, like me, you’re diagnosed with early AMD, your best approach is to take care of your eye health, which includes eating a proper diet high in antioxidants and managing your risk factors. You might also consider taking a daily eye supplement that contains antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins that are recommended explicitly for eye health.

Watch for Symptoms

According to the Mayo Clinic, the following symptoms can indicate that you are developing AMD:

  • Visual distortions, such as straight lines seeming bent
  • Reduced central vision in one or both eyes
  • The need for brighter light when reading or doing close-up work
  • Increased difficulty adapting to low light levels, such as when entering a dimly lit restaurant
  • Increased blurriness of printed words
  • Decreased intensity or brightness of colors
  • Difficulty recognizing faces
  • A well-defined blurry or blind spot in your field of vision

Foods to Fend Off AMD

One of the best ways to find foods high in antioxidants to include in your anti-AMD diet is to look for color.

Orange and red vegetables and fruits such as carrots, acorn squash, yellow and red bell peppers, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, apricots, and berries contain the carotenoids beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, a class of antioxidant micronutrients.

Lutein isn’t only found in these colorful foods, it’s also found in the macular part of your eyes. As an eye pigment, lutein protects the macula from high-energy light from the sun.

“A large body of evidence shows that lutein has several beneficial effects, especially on eye health,” a research review published in Nutrients in 2018 reads. “In particular, lutein is known to improve or even prevent age-related macular disease which is the leading cause of blindness and vision impairment.”

Zeaxanthin is also found in your eyes, where it neutralizes unstable free radicals from oxidative stress.

Green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, romaine lettuce, broccoli, and egg yolks are also good sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, as are corn, kiwi fruit, and grapes.

Ginkgo biloba and goji berry also protect against damaging free radicals from metabolic oxidation. They’re available in tea, capsule, tablet, or tincture form.

Vitamin A is needed for the light-sensing function of the retina. Top sources of vitamin A include carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squash, and cantaloupe; salmon, mackerel, and trout; and fortified dairy products, eggs, and liver.

Coconut oil has been found to help protect the retina against damage from AMD.

Rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids include oily fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines; oysters and caviar; and seeds such as flax, chia, and hemp; and walnuts.

Glutathione is another powerful antioxidant that helps maintain the health of the retina. Sulfur is necessary for producing glutathione, so consuming onions, garlic, leeks, and eggs is essential as they contain sulfur.

Risk Factors

There are several known risk factors for age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Age: AMD is most prevalent in people older than 60.

Family history and genetics:  Research has revealed several genes related to developing AMD.

Ethnicity: AMD is more common in Caucasians, particularly women.

Smoking: Regular exposure to smoke significantly increases your risk of macular degeneration. Toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke increase the impact of sunlight up to 1000 times as it reaches the retina causing damage to the macula.

Obesity: Carrying excess weight can increase your risk of early or intermediate AMD progressing to a more severe form.

Cardiovascular disease: Atherosclerosis, vascular diseases, and hypertension may increase your risk of AMD.


The 10-year  Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS and AREDS2) conducted by the National Eye Institute (NEI) followed 4,000 participants and found that the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin effectively reduced the risk of AMD progression. The formula they used contained the following nutrients (which is similar to the one I’m taking):

  • Vitamin A (5000 IU)
  • Vitamin C (500 mg)
  • Vitamin E (400 IU)
  • Lutein (10 mg)
  • Zeaxanthin (2 mg)
  • Zinc (80 mg)
  • Copper (2 mg)

Treatment Options

There are two types of AMD, “dry” and “wet.” The dry type is more common and progresses slowly over many years. About 80 percent of those with AMD have this type. The wet type is more serious as it progresses quickly, sometimes developing from the dry type. The wet type is due to the leakage of blood vessels that grow under the retina. Because of this, wet AMD must be treated immediately to minimize severe damage to your eyesight. Because there are two major types of AMD, the treatment options are different.


This condition is ordinarily chronic and not as dangerous as the wet type. Consequently, attention to your daily diet and lifestyle and managing your risk factors are the best approaches to treat dry AMD. Medical intervention, such as eye injections or laser surgery, is usually necessary only if your AMD is advancing or your dry type suddenly becomes wet.


The leakage of blood vessels from behind the retina causes this more serious type of AMD. Research indicates that a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is the main reason for this condition. The current approach to treatment requires monthly or bimonthly injections of anti-VEGF drugs directly into the eye. These may slow or stop the leakage, thus helping to prevent further vision loss.


Laser photocoagulation is a type of laser surgery used to treat the wet form of AMD. It doesn’t restore vision but may slow the progression by burning the leaking blood vessels that cause wet AMD. However, scarring from this procedure may increase your vision loss rather than improve it.

Implanting a telescopic lens in one of the eyes of selected patients with advanced dry macular degeneration in both eyes may improve both distance and close-up vision. However, it provides a narrow field of view and isn’t recommended for most advanced AMD patients.

Stem Cell Research

The National Eye Institute is currently undergoing a study to test the safety of injecting autologous stem cells into the eyes of AMD patients as a possible future treatment for dry AMD. Autologous means the stem cells would be grown from each participant’s own cells and then injected into their eyes. This trial began in September 2020 and ends in May 2029; applications are still being accepted.


AMD is difficult to treat, and the lack of research leaves this field open for more treatment discoveries. Considering the millions of people with AMD, newer, more successful options are sorely needed. Until then, your best approach to prevention and treatment is to focus on your eye health through a nutritious diet, restful sleep, daily exercise, and not smoking. Protect your eyes from UV and blue light from the sun and computer and cellphone screens, and visit your eye doctor as often as necessary.

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