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Healthy choices can make for healthy eyes

CHICAGO — With many Americans pledging to lead healthier lifestyles this year, many people may not know that in addition to affecting their waistlines, healthy habits can help save their sight. The risk for blinding eye diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), can be lessened by taking basic steps to ensure overall health.
AMD is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness for those ages 65 and older. It usually begins as a loss of central vision, which results in difficulty to read or see fine details. Over time, the vision loss progresses significantly. Although there is promising research into the disease, unfortunately, there is still no cure.
However, steps can be taken to reduce the risk. Quitting smoking is essential to maintain healthy vision. Research shows that smokers are up to four times more likely than non-smokers to be diagnosed with AMD. In addition, non-smokers living with smokers almost double their risk of developing AMD through second-hand smoke. The World Health Organization names smoking as the only modifiable risk factor for AMD.
Eating a diet filled with green leafy vegetables rich in lutein can also help lessen the risk of AMD. Lutein is a naturally occurring molecule found in vegetables such as spinach, kale and collard greens. It can also be found in corn, egg yolks and other vegetables and fruits. Eating foods high in zinc, vitamins C and E, and beta carotene has also been shown to help slow the progression of AMD in some patients, according to the National Eye Institute. Frequently eating nuts or fish, such as salmon, tuna or mackerel, may also help reduce the risk.
According to the AMD Alliance International, certain foods should also be avoided, including foods and processed baked goods with high-fat content. A high-fat, high-cholesterol diet can lead to fatty plaque deposits in the macular vessels, which can hamper blood flow. Research has indicated that those consuming red meat at least 10 times a week or more were at a 47 percent higher risk for AMD.
The risk of vision loss from eye diseases, including AMD, can be lowered if adults: control blood pressure and cholesterol; stay active and exercise regularly; get a complete eye exam from an eye care professional.
"We all know the steps we should take to take better care of ourselves," Hugh R. Parry, president and CEO of Prevent Blindness America, said. "What we want to stress is how leading a healthy life can help lead to healthy vision."
Prevent Blindness America invites the public to visit "The AMD Learning Center" at preventblindness.org/amd, developed as a free online resource that provides a variety of educational tools including AMD risk factors, treatment options and the Adult Vision Risk Assessment quiz. Information is also available through Prevent Blindness America's toll-free number, 800-331-2020.

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