Healthy lifestyle, healthy eyes in old age

Wed Dec 15, 2010 2:27pm EST
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By Alison McCook

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People who lead overall healthy lives -- getting exercise, eating right, and not smoking -- are significantly more likely to keep their aging eyes healthy, new study findings report.

Exercise and diet were each linked to a lower risk of age-related degenerative changes in the eyes, but both combined, along with a lack of smoking, caused a "particularly profound lowering" of the risk -- by more than 70 percent, study author Dr. Julie Mares of the University of Wisconsin in Madison told Reuters Health.

"We don't need to be passive victims of these ravages of old age," Mares said. "Relatively small things could make a difference in whether or not we develop AMD (age-related macular degeneration) in our lifetime."

"Eat well, move, and don't smoke," she advised.

As the population ages, the concern over AMD grows. The disease is most common among people 75 and older, a group that will triple in size over the next 40 years, Mares noted. Already, one in four people older than 65 have early signs of AMD, she said.

AMD is caused by abnormal blood vessel growth behind the retina or a breakdown of light-sensitive cells within the retina itself, both of which can lead to serious vision impairment.

There is no cure, but a U.S. government clinical trial recently found that a high-dose mix of specific antioxidants -- vitamins C and E, beta-carotene and zinc -- can slow the progression of AMD in the intermediate stages, and doctors now commonly prescribe it for such patients.

Another study published earlier this year found that older adults who eat fatty fish at least once a week may have a lower risk of serious vision loss from AMD.   Continued...