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Macular Degeneration: Eating Right Can Slow An Age-Related Eye Disease

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Medical photo: Age-related macular degeneration

Eating healthier and smarter is good for us overall. But there’s evidence it helps those with an age-related eye disease. 

Dr. Karl Csaky is Managing and Medical Director of the Retina Foundation of the Southwest and the Clinical Center of Innovation for Age-Related Macular Degeneration.

Interview Highlights: Dr. Karl Csaky

What is macular degeneration? “A slow degeneration of the cells in the back of the eye that occurs mostly in patients over the age of 65. As much as a third of the population over the age of 80 can have the disease. We think that as we age certain immune processes, certain protective processes, start to deteriorate, and those at highest risk for macular degeneration that start to exhibit signs of the disease.”

How long you can have the disease without knowing it: “You can have early signs of the disease and be relatively asymptomatic. Or the symptoms can be very subtle like decreased vision in low luminance. You’re in a restaurant, you’re driving at night and you find you’re having difficulties. Many will say that’s just getting older when, in fact, that not’s a normal aging process. That may be an early signs of the disease. In some cases, as the disease progresses, patients will start to realize they’re having trouble reading, seeing vision in front of them, and then, or course, the most severe form can lead to legal blindness, meaning the inability to read at all.”

Eating right can slow progress of the disease: “There’s more and more evidence that what we term as the Mediterranean diet can slow, and in some cases prevent, the onset of the disease. Foods that we eat are, in many ways, medicines. And the types of foods that we eat seem to affect this disease [and] other diseases as well.”

What types of food are best: “Green, leafy vegetables. Fruits. Nuts. Fish. If you’re cooking with oil, use olive oil. And that, as opposed to our Western diet, which is steak, butter and ice cream, is what we think have a healthy effect and can slow the progression of this disease.”

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Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.