Macular degeneration and nutrition

By Leanne McCrate

Dear Dietitian,

My mother, who is 73 years old, was just diagnosed with macular degeneration. I have read that nutrition is a part of the treatment for this condition. Can you explain?


Dear Susan,

Thanks to a lot of research, there are much better ways of treating age-related macular degeneration (AMD) today than there were twenty years ago. Currently, there are about eleven million Americans who suffer from AMD, and that number is expected to double to 22 million by the year 2050 (1). Treatment may include surgery, nutrition, and medicine.

The macula is the central part of the retina in your eye. It allows us 20/20 vision and the ability to see color. As AMD progresses, the macula breaks down, and if left untreated, will lead to blindness. Blurred vision is a symptom of macular degeneration. Be sure to schedule an annual exam with an eye doctor to be sure your eyes are healthy.

The top 5 risk factors for AMD include (2):

• Age — AMD occurs more in people over the age of 60 years.

• Smoking

• Family history of AMD

• Obesity — Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or higher.

• High blood pressure

While there are some studies that suggest the consumption of leafy green vegetables and fatty fish may help prevent the disease, the strongest research has been performed on those who have already developed AMD.

The Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS) and AREDS2 evaluated the effects of high doses of certain nutrients on the progression of AMD. AREDS2 modified the supplement derived from the first study and came up with the following: 500 mg vitamin C, 400 IU vitamin E, 80 mg zinc, 2 mg copper, 10 mg lutein, and 2 mg zeaxanthin. This combination was found to reduce the risk of advanced AMD and its associated vision loss (3).

While many of these nutrients can be obtained in your diet, it would be virtually impossible to consume the amount needed every day in order to treat macular degeneration. Talk to your doctor and follow his or her instructions.

The following nutrients, along with the foods where they can be found, may help fight AMD:

• Vitamin C — citrus fruits, such as oranges, grapefruit, clementines, lemons, and strawberries.

• Vitamin E — sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, and some oils

• Zinc is a mineral found in oysters, beef, fortified cereal, Alaska King crab

• Copper is a trace element found in shellfish, nuts, seeds, wheat bran cereal, and chocolate. Yes, chocolate!

• Lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidants that function to protect the eye from damaging sunlight. They are plentiful in leafy green vegetables, such as kale, spinach, and turnip greens. Higher amounts are obtained in their cooked form simply because these vegetables cook down, and there is more food in one cup of cooked spinach versus one cup raw. Cooking also makes it easier for the body to absorb these nutrients. One more very important reason to eat your veggies!

Until next time, be healthy!

Dear Dietitian


1. Age-Related Macular Degeneration: Fact & Figures (Jan. 5, 2019). Retrieved from

2. Turbert, D, Vemulakonda, G. Top 5 Risk Factors for AMD (Jan. 28, 2019). Retrieved from

3. What the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies Mean for You (July 19, 2019) Retrieved from

Disclaimer: This column is intended for educational purposes only is not to be used as a substitution for medical care. Talk to an eye doctor if you think you may have macular degeneration.

By Leanne McCrate

Leanne McCrate is an award-winning dietitian based in Missouri. Her mission is to educate the public on sound, evidence-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her at

Leanne McCrate is an award-winning dietitian based in Missouri. Her mission is to educate the public on sound, evidence-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her at