Preventing blindness

Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) is the leading cause of blindness in the developed world. There are two types – dry or wet. Unfortunately, no effective treatment exists for the dry form of ARMD, which makes up about 90% of cases, so prevention is key.

It’s the job of the retina to detect light and the images formed by them and translate that into nerve impulses that eventually reach the brain. There’s a special part of the retina called the macula which is responsible for central vision, that is seeing what’s directly in straight front of us. It has a special structure, different from the rest of the retina. It’s thinner, delicate and more susceptible to what’s going on in the rest of the eye and the body as a whole.

Your risk of ARMD increases with age, certain genetics and cigarette smoking. However, a meat-centered diet is a risk factor too. Medical studies show that consuming meat raises your risk of ARMD while eating plant foods decreases it. There are several reasons for this, but let’s just talk about three.

The first is that the best source of two nutrients critical to the health and function of the macula, lutein and zeaxanthin, are found in plant foods. Not surprisingly, plant-based eaters have significantly more of these vital substances in their macula than meat eaters, giving them a distinct advantage.

The second is that oxidative stress plays a role in the development of dry ARMD, and antioxidants help counters it. Since the overwhelming amount of antioxidants in the diet are to be found in plant foods, a plant-based diet helps reduce the risk of dry ARMD, by providing a much higher level of antioxidants.

The third reason is that inflammation helps cause degeneration of the macula. Meat and other animal foods raise the level of inflammation in the body, whereas plant foods reduce it, so it comes as no surprise that vegetarians and especially vegans have a significantly lower amount of inflammation in their bodies.

While no one can change their age or genetics, people can change their diet. By increasing plant foods and decreasing animal foods (preferably to zero), you give yourself a significant advantage when it comes to reducing the risk of macular degeneration. For more information, see our professional level article.