Most Americans dread the possible loss of eyesight and the impact it would have on their independence and quality of life.

“According to a 2012 survey by the American Optometric Association, the vast majority of Americans value eyesight over memory or the ability to walk,” said Dr. Pam Duitsman, nutrition and health specialist, University of Missouri Extension. “However, we may be making daily decisions that could be compromising the welfare of our vision.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of legal blindness in the United States for those over the age of 50. AMD is associated with aging and results in damage to the macula of the eye, causing loss of sharp and central vision. The loss of central vision can interfere with everyday activities, like the ability to read, drive, write, or accomplish close work such as cooking or fixing things around the house.

“The risk of AMD increases as we age, if we have a family history of it and if we have lifestyle choices linked to AMD,” Duitsman said. “We cannot do anything about aging or family history. However, the good news is, we may be able to reduce our risk or the progression of AMD by making healthy lifestyle choices.”

•Avoid smoking. Research indicates that smoking doubles the risk of AMD.

•Exercise regularly. Regular cardiovascular exercise, such as walking or biking, may reduce the rate of progression of AMD by as much as 25 percent.

•Maintain normal blood pressure. Studies show that people with uncontrolled hypertension are three times more likely to develop AMD.

•Eat a healthy diet rich in green, leafy vegetables. Research indicates that components of certain vegetables – especially the two carotenoids Lutein and zeaxathin — help reduce the risk of AMD and/or help delay the progression of the disease once it has begun.

•Pay attention to the types of, and the amount of, fat you are eating. People who eat a lot of saturated fats have a higher risk of AMD. Include Omega-3 fatty acids in cold-water fish have been shown to have a protective effect against AMD.

What about dietary supplements? Only an eye doctor can determine whether or not supplements to prevent AMD are right for an individual.

“Experts recommend that all adults get a comprehensive eye exam by age 40,” Duitsman said. “Go sooner if you have eye symptoms, or if you have a family history of eye disease, diabetes, or any condition that puts you at risk for vision-related issues.”

For more information on nutrition, call the MU Extension office in Houston at 417-967-4545. Nutrition information is also available online at

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