Western Diet Linked to Age-Related Macular Degeneration

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Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a condition that affects the macula—the central, most critical part of the retina for providing sharp vision. In the United States, it is the leading cause of severe and irreversible loss of central vision in people over age 50. Some 9 million Americans have some evidence of AMD; more than 2 million have late, or advanced, AMD.

Known risk factors for AMD include advancing age, farsightedness, a family history of AMD, a light-colored iris, obesity, and cigarette smoking. Studies also show a connection between AMD and cardiovascular disease. Genetic predisposition also plays an important role. Evidence suggests that multiple genes are involved, probably under the influence of some environmental trigger.

A study in the British Journal of Ophthalmology suggests that eating a Western-style diet may increase the risk of advanced AMD. Of 144 people who experienced this leading cause of blindness, those whose diets most aligned with a Western (predominantly unhealthy) eating pattern—high in red meat, fried food, refined grains, and full-fat dairy—had more than triple the likelihood of developing late-stage AMD over 18 years as those who ate less of such foods, after age, race, education, calorie intake, and smoking were controlled for. The Western diet was not associated with early AMD, however.