Eat This to Prevent a Leading Cause of Blindness

CC BY 2.0. Ahmed Sinan / Flickr

Researchers have found the diet that significantly reduces the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration.

What if someone told you that you could take a safe and proven medication everyday and it would significantly decrease your risk of going blind in older age. And while we're at it, the same medication would lead to a longer lifespan and a reduced incidence of heart disease and cognitive decline.

Oh, and the medication tastes delicious and would decrease your carbon footprint too!

Well, it's actually a reality and I'm here to reveal this secret miracle medication: It's the Mediterranean diet.

We've been hearing for years about all the remarkable benefits garnered from eating in the dietary style made famous by the longevity it delivers to people along the Mediterranean coast. The easy-to-follow eating pattern is low in meat and processed foods, and rich in fish, vegetables, fruits, legumes, unrefined grains, and olive oil.

And now a very comprehensive review of two long-term cohort studies (one with four years of data, the other with 21 years) involving 4,996 participants reveals another important benefit – a significantly decreased risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

AMD is a degenerative eye disease that causes the loss of central vision, making common activities – like recognizing faces, driving, reading, and writing – a challenge. It is one of the leading causes of vision loss among people age 50 and older, affecting some 1.8 million people in the United States. By 2020, that number is estimated to increase to nearly 3 million people, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

In the new research, a collaborative group of European researchers were looking at the links between genes and lifestyle in regard to the development of AMD.

They found that people who ate a Mediterranean diet decreased their risk of late-stage AMD by 41 percent.

And the diet is beneficial for all, even if one already has the disease or is at risk of developing it.

Interestingly, they found that it wasn't any of the food components alone that lowered the risk, rather it was the whole shebang of the nutrient-rich diet responsible for the magic. "These findings support the role of a diet rich in healthful nutrient-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and fish in the prevention of AMD," the authors write.

The modern western wold is plagued by disease caused by poor diet – and now we can add blindness to the list of risks that can be reduced by eating well, and especially by adhering to a Mediterranean-style diet.

"You are what you eat," says Emily Chew, M.D., a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "I believe this is a public health issue on the same scale as smoking. Chronic diseases such as AMD, dementia, obesity, and diabetes, all have roots in poor dietary habits. It's time to take quitting a poor diet as seriously as quitting smoking."

The research was published in Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.