More than 11 million Americans suffer from some form of macular degeneration, a serious eye condition that can lead to significant vision loss and even blindness. The recent Journal of Clinical Investigation indicated that it is the most common source of central vision loss in North America.
While good nutrition is no guarantee of avoiding macular degeneration, who wouldn't want to try? Especially if preserving eye health is as delicious as eating more sweet potatoes, a tuber that originated in South and Central America. The carotenoids in sweet potatoes — lutein and zeaxanthin — absorb damaging blue and ultraviolet light, which can damage the macula of the eye. Other deep-orange foods also have oxygen-carrying carotenoids, which are key to eye health.
The cause of macular degeneration is unknown, but aging is definitely a factor. Lifestyle factors also matter: Smokers and those exposed to secondhand smoke are at greater risk. Those consuming a high sugar or high glycemic diet (doughnuts, cookies, cakes, high fructose corn sweeteners) were shown to have increased incidence of the disease, according to a study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Nutritionists have known for years that simple sugars damage proteins in cells and affect their function. Combine that with damaging sun rays, and vision loss too often is the result.
An eye exam can identify if yellow spots on the retina called drusen, an early sign of the condition, are beginning to form. But why wait for trouble to begin? Get your health in order, and you may avoid this and other serious conditions entirely.
Betty Wedman-St. Louis is a licensed nutritionist and environmental health specialist in Pinellas County who has written numerous books on health and nutrition. Visit her website at betty-wedman-stlouis.com.