A study by researchers at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research in Australia found that oranges lower the risk for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) of the eye. In fact, people who ate at least one serving a day of oranges had more than a 60% reduced risk for developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) 15 years later. The researchers led by Associate Professor Bamini Gopinath from the University of Sydney found that even eating only one orange a week appeared to also offer benefits. They discovered that the powerful antioxidant anti-inflammatory flavonoids in oranges are most likely the way that eating oranges protects the eyes from developing AMD. The anti-inflammatory effects of flavonoids also are beneficial for the immune system. The results of their research were published July 6, 2018 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The Blue Mountains Eye Study
The Blue Mountains Eye Study that began in 1992 is one of the largest epidemiology population-based studies in the world. Participants in the study were 2856 adults about age 49 at the beginning of the study. They were followed up 15 years later to see if their food choices were associated with a lower risk for developing AMD.
Previous Research Focused on the Effects of Vitamins, A, C and E on the Eyes
While previous research focused on the effects of Vitamins A, C and E on the eyes, this study dealt with flavonoids and their relationship to AMD. The researchers also studied other foods with flavanoids like apples, tea and red wine, but only oranges showed protective benefits for the eyes.
Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
According to the National Eye Institute, AMD is a common eye condition and a leading cause of vision loss among seniors age 50 and older. AMD causes damage to the macula, a small spot near the center of the retina. This is the part of the eye needed for sharp, central vision, so that we can see things that are straight ahead.
AMD May Begin with a Blurred Area near the Center of Vision
In some people, AMD advances so slowly that vision loss does not occur for a long time. In others, the disease progresses faster and may lead to a loss of vision in one or both eyes. AMD may begin with a common symptom that is a blurred area near the center of vision. Over time, this blurred area may grow larger or blank spots may form in central vision. Objects also may not appear to be as bright as they used to be.
While AMD does not lead to complete blindness, the loss of central vision in AMD can interfere with simple everyday activities, such as reading, driving, writing, cooking, doing close work, the ability to see faces and to fix things around the house.
The macula of the eye contains millions of light-sensing cells that provide sharp, central vision. The macula is the most sensitive part of the retina, which is located at the back of the eye. The retina converts light into electrical signals and then sends these electrical signals through the optic nerve to the brain. In the brain these electrical signals are translated into the images we see. A damaged macula can cause the center of your field of view to appear blurry, distorted, or dark.
Risks for AMD
Age is a major risk factor for AMD. The disease is most likely to occur after age 60, but it can occur earlier. See our blog post from February 20, 2018 to read more about other eye diseases that are associated with aging.
Smoking. Research shows that smoking doubles the risk of AMD.
Family History and Genetics. People with a family history of AMD are at higher risk. Currently there are no genetic tests that can diagnose AMD, or predict with certainty who will develop it.
Researchers have found links between AMD and some lifestyle choices. You might be able to reduce your risk of AMD or slow its progression by making these healthy choices:
- Avoid smoking
- Get regular physical exercise
- Maintain normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Eat a healthy diet rich in colorful orange, yellow and green, leafy vegetables and fish.
The early and intermediate stages of AMD usually start without symptoms. Only a comprehensive dilated eye exam can detect AMD. AMD has few symptoms in the early stages, so it is important to have your eyes examined regularly. If you are at risk for AMD because of age, family history, lifestyle, or some combination of these factors, you should not wait to experience changes in vision before getting checked for AMD.
During the exam, your ophthalmologist (eye doctor) will look for drusen, which are yellow deposits beneath the retina. Most people develop some very small drusen as a normal part of aging. The presence of medium-to-large drusen may indicate that you have AMD.
Another sign of AMD is the appearance of pigmentary changes under the retina. In addition to the pigmented cells in the iris (the colored part of the eye), there are pigmented cells beneath the retina. These cells can break down and release their pigment. The ophthalmologist may see dark clumps of released pigment and later, areas that are less pigmented. These changes will not affect your eye color.
What are the stages of AMD?
There are three stages of AMD defined in part by the size and number of drusen under the retina. It is possible to have AMD in one eye only, or to have one eye with a later stage of AMD than the other.
- Early AMD. Early AMD is diagnosed by the presence of medium-sized drusen, which are about the width of an average human hair. People with early AMD usually do not have vision loss.
- Intermediate AMD. People with intermediate AMD usually have large drusen, pigment changes in the retina, or both. Again, these changes can only be detected during an eye exam. Intermediate AMD may cause some vision loss, but most people will not experience any symptoms.
- Late AMD. In addition to drusen, people with late AMD have vision loss from damage to the macula.
Not everyone with early AMD will develop late AMD. For people who have early AMD in one eye and no signs of AMD in the other eye, about 5% will develop advanced AMD after 10 years. For people who have early AMD in both eyes, about 14 percent will develop late AMD in at least one eye after 10 years.
Currently, no treatment exists for early AMD, which in many people shows no symptoms or loss of vision. Your eye doctor may recommend that you get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. The exam will help determine if your condition is advancing.
Intermediate and late AMD
Researchers at the National Eye Institute tested whether taking nutritional supplements could protect against AMD in the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS and AREDS2). They found that daily intake of certain high-dose vitamins and minerals can slow progression of the disease in people who have intermediate AMD, and those who have late AMD in one eye.
Here are the ingredients based on AREDS and AREDS2 research:
- 500 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C
- 400 international units of vitamin E
- 80 mg zinc as zinc oxide
- 2 mg copper as cupric oxide
- 10 mg lutein and 2 mg zeaxanthin
If you have intermediate or late AMD, you might benefit from taking supplements containing these ingredients. Consult your doctor about which supplement may be right for you.
Remember, however, that the AREDS formulation is not a cure. It does not help people with early AMD, and will not restore vision already lost from AMD. But it may delay the onset of late AMD. It also may help slow vision loss in people who already have late AMD.
The Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse, New York
If you or your loved one suffer from vision problems and are also in need of short term rehabilitation or long-term skilled nursing care, choose a facility that has an ophthalmologist on the staff. The Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse, New York has a consultant ophthalmologist available to their medical staff.
Since there is no cure for AMD, it pays to make lifestyle changes to prevent it like quitting smoking, eating a good diet that includes lots of colorful vegetables and especially to eat oranges.