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Look Out For The Leading Cause Of Blindness

By Muriel J. Smith ~

Aging Macular Degeneration (AMD) came on me literally overnight and caught me off guard, frightening and wondering why I, who at 84 never needed glasses, saw an optometrist regularly, the last time seven months previous, my physician every four months, and am reasonably intelligent, never received any warnings that near blindness in one eye could happen, and happen so quickly? Surely, in an age when we put men on the moon, have halted so many cancers and discovered a vaccine within a year for a disease that had never appeared before, isn’t it weird we had no cure or preventative for what is the leading cause of blindness in men and women over 60? So much a leading cause that its victims outnumber those who suffer blindness from glaucoma and cataracts. Combined! It caused me to do some intensive investigation.

AMG is an incurable disease that affects the macula, that little area, like a little film,  right in the center of the retina. It’s the part that makes the difference between seeing details vividly and clearly as on a sunny beautiful day and seeing them blurry like through a rain-soaked window. It’s the part that makes 20-20 vision and differentiates among colors, is full of little nerves and cells and is arguably the most important part of the eye. Lying flat against the back wall of the eye on a cushion of fluid, it begins to deteriorate as you age,  getting more difficult to recognize faces, colors, fine details in objects; it gets more difficult to read and drive. All the little messages the optic nerve gets from the macula aren’t getting there to be brought to the brain. That’s the degeneration part of it.  It appears to depend on the genes you inherited, but clearly, there have to be ways to halt it. My research showed, too late for me, there are.

The ophthalmologist who is now treating me monthly, with eye examinations and injections directly into the eye to halt further deterioration, suggested I get AREDS 2, an over the counter tablet taken twice a day and known to be an AMD deterrent. He also suggested more green leafy vegetables and oily fish. I readily agreed and began both. But I was angry.  The OTC medication is cheap, particularly weighing it against blindness, and a better diet is simply a matter of choice. But why didn’t any doctor ever mention either of these? Why didn’t any doctor say, “Hey, you’ve got great eyes, it’s amazing you don’t even wear glasses, why don’t you protect them by eating sardines and tuna fish with lettuce and broccoli, and try these tablets? You have nothing to use.” Only a fool would not have heeded that advice.

It was my son and daughter who both told me not to dwell on the past, or waste anger on something I couldn’t change. Better to concentrate on eating more kale and salmon and writing about my experience to encourage others to talk to their own physicians and get their own recommendations on anything they should be doing. My daughter topped it off by having a wonderful recipe book delivered to me the following day. Eat Right for Your Sight is the product of the American Macular Degeneration Foundation, and the purchase of the book of simple recipes for foods that help reduce the risk of vision loss is also a contribution towards the Foundation’s continuing research into AMD.

The book goes into detail about the foods you should have in your pantry for good eye health. These include just about any kind of fruit, but especially all the berries…be they blue, black, rasp, straw, or cran.  Or bil, but around here you can probably only get Bilberry fruit extract, an herbal gel which is ok, too.  

It follows that just about every vegetable is great as well, but think green for the best…broccoli, peas, kale, spinach, peppers, lettuce. Add some color from carrots, corn, tomatoes and sweet potatoes; just for fun add garlic!   Almonds, peanut butter, sunflower seeds and walnuts taste even better when you know they’re eye-nutritional, and yogurt, cheese, eggs and milk are always good choices but watch cholesterol levels as well.   

Among the meats and seafood, chicken, turkey and lean beef or pork are great, but load up on sardines (hey, with cream cheese on a cracker, and a glass of wine, they’re terrific!) scallops, shrimp, salmon, oysters, and tuna.  Brown rice and whole-grain bread are always good, as are couscous and quinoa.  And use olive, canola or flaxseed oil for the best eye health.  The Greeks have been promoting olive oil for all kinds of health benefits for centuries, and the Spanish explorers back in the day of  Pizarro and De Gama ate chile peppers to improve their night vision while at sea.  

But back to the recipes.  How does Salmon with Peppered Balsamic Strawberries sound? Or Spicy Fish Tacos or Grilled Herbed Tuna on Spinach Salad?  There are also great modifications of old favorites like stuffed cabbage, macaroni and cheese, or a host of soups or salads. And among the desserts are several very easy homemade frozen yogurts, as well as carrot cake, of course, and a couple of sorbets or peach soup.  Even Smoothies get an entire section in the book along with juices.  Check out macular.org for more recipes, books, and lots of information on AMD.

With two eye injections now making me feel like a pro, with the good feeling that perhaps this really is helping, because my sight does not appear to be getting any worse, and I am getting used to seeing the world through, foggy, rain-swept windows, I’m ready to adopt the wise outlook of my friend in Montana. A talented artist  ( check out www.logcabinart.com ) she wrote she has only had clear vision in one eye from the time she was a child. When AMG was diagnosed in her ‘good’ eye nine years ago, she,  who also teaches art and is a talented pianist,  immediately began thinking she’d have to learn Braille and look for other hobbies and work.

Today, following her doctor’s advice on the right foods,  Preservision (AREDS)  and keeping her blood pressure and cholesterol in line, as well as wearing UF protection glasses outside, this artist and grandmother sees her ophthalmologist every six months and her sight has not gotten any worse.  The eternal optimist, my friend blithely says she uses a ruler or tape to draw straight lines since even telephone poles look crooked to her. But she added, she’s ready for whenever she loses more vision. Instead of her mountain scenes, people and animals she now draws and paints, her plan is “when it gets worse, I plan on painting huge flowers in bright colors on large canvases.”  And she’s confident there is a cure not too far off in the future.

I share her optimism and hope.