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Limiting Simple Carbohydrates May Slow the Progress of Macular Degeneration and Delay or Possibly Prevent its Development

October 24, 2008

Adapted from the BrightFocus Foundation

Eating whole grain versions of rice and wheat flour, and limiting refined sugar in your diet could slow the progress of macular degeneration. It may even help protect against development of this blinding eye disease. Allen Taylor, Ph.D. and a team of scientists from Tufts University analyzed dietary data from over 4,000 people who participated in the National Eye Institute's Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS). Based on their analysis, these researchers believe there may be a connection between eating foods with a high glycemic index and an increased risk of developing or worsening macular degeneration. Similar observations have come from another study of 600 individuals by Dr. Taylor, as well as an Australian study. To date, there have been no contradictory reports.

White rice and pasta, white bread, and foods with large amounts of sugar or high fructose corn syrup, such as sodas, cakes and cookies contain carbohydrates that raise the glycemic index. These simple carbohydrates quickly convert into blood sugar (glucose), resulting in a rapid rise and subsequent fall in a person's glucose level, and snacking on such foods causes frequent rises in the glycemic index. These frequent spikes are believed to contribute to the development of diabetes and diabetic eye disease, and carbohydrate intake has been linked to cataracts. Now, Dr. Taylor and his colleagues theorize that foods with a high glycemic index may also be associated with the eye tissue damage that occurs in macular degeneration.

Whole grains and brown rice contain complex carbohydrates which have low glycemic indices, and are considered healthier because they are processed more slowly without causing sharp blood sugar spikes. While more studies need to be done, Dr. Taylor sees switching to whole grains and limiting simple carbohydrates in the diet as a very economical and non-invasive way to lower the risk of macular degeneration. A minor dietary change, such as eating five slices of whole wheat rather than white bread daily, could move people from the top to the bottom half of the glycemic index. “For at-risk elderly people, the number of advanced cases of macular degeneration could be reduced by eight percent in five years. This could equate to saving the sight of as many as 100,000 people,” says Dr. Taylor.

Dr. Taylor's study was funded in part by a 2007 grant from the Macular Degeneration Research program of BrightFocus. BrightFocus is proud to have funded Dr. Taylor for this very important research.

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this section is a public service of the BrightFocus Foundation, and should not in any way substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional, and is not intended to constitute medical advice. Although we take efforts to keep the medical information on our website updated, we cannot guarantee that the information on our website reflects the most up-to-date research. Please consult your physician for personalized medical advice; all medications and supplements should only be taken under medical supervision. BrightFocus Foundation does not endorse any medical product or therapy.

Some of the content in this section is adapted from other sources, which are clearly identified within each individual item of information.

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