Vitamin D, Turmeric, Broccoli: Healthy Eating Equals Healthy Eyes: American Health Assistance Foundation Observes Healthy Vision Month

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CLARKSBURG, MD.-What is healthy for your body is good for your eyes, that is the message the American Health Assistance Foundation (AHAF) is highlighting during the month of May as it observes Healthy Vision Month. “To lower your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration or glaucoma participate in healthy habits all through your life,” said Kathleen Honaker, Executive Director, AHAF.

“First and foremost, give up smoking and get regular exercise, research is showing these two actions can contribute immensely to a person's current and future quality of life including maintaining healthy eyes,” said Mrs. Honaker. In addition, doctors recommend getting regular eye exams and being aware of any changes in vision and if you notice vision changes see your eye care specialist. Keep blood pressure at normal levels of 120/80, wear sunglasses and brimmed hats outdoors, and maintain a healthy weight by eating a healthy diet, including leafy green vegetables, fresh fruit, whole grains and foods with vitamins, D, E and C, and omega-3 fatty acids including oily fish like salmon, walnuts, almonds, and extra virgin olive oil.

Eating foods like almonds that are high in vitamin E may lower the risk of macular degeneration. Also, research shows it is more valuable to eat foods rich in this vitamin than to take supplements. One ounce of almonds (about 23 nuts) provides half the amount of vitamin E needed on a daily basis. You can't go wrong eating these foods either: kale, butternut squash, mangos, and chicken, yogurt and pumpkin seeds for the zinc they provide. Consider sprinkling on some turmeric, a spice used in curry recipes, for antioxidant properties that are currently being studied by researchers funded by AHAF, all these foods may help prevent macular degeneration.

The American Health Assistance Foundation has funded $96 million dollars in research to date including several studies that evaluate the effect of various foods on eye health. Md Nawajes Ali Mandal, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Research, University of Oklahoma Health Services Center, is conducting research on the possible protective role that anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative botanical compounds such as turmeric spice, broccoli and honeybee propolis (a popular nutritional supplement) have on age-related macular degeneration. His study will open up new directions for testing other promising substances and experimenting to see if there is better protection against macular degeneration when these compounds are supplied through diet.

Additional AHAF funded research will study the effects of vitamin D on glaucoma. Dr. Paul Leon Kaufman, Professor and Chairman, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System, is working with monkeys to determine if vitamin D has the potential to lower inner eye pressure through topical application. “The number of health benefits attributed to vitamin D continues to increase. We would like to know if it has the potential to lower eye pressure and possibly be further developed as a glaucoma therapy. Since it is a molecule produced naturally in the human body, the number of side effects are likely to be minimal,” said Dr. Kaufman.

The ongoing research of Allen Taylor, Ph.D., Tufts University School of Medicine, is the first to analyze the effect of eating habits and the development of age-related macular degeneration. His study involves using data from a number of large studies to test whether limiting carbohydrates reduces the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration. His findings, published in the May 2009 issue of the Journal Ophthalmology, suggest that it may indeed do just that. Which means eating a diet low in starchy carbohydrates and rich in green leafy vegetables, nuts and fish, may lower the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration.

“These are just a sampling of the exciting and innovative studies being funded by the American Health Assistance Foundation,” said Mrs. Honaker. “This is the type of well-designed and thoroughly considered research that is our best strategy for providing stepping stones to the ultimate treatments and cures for macular degeneration and glaucoma,” added Mrs. Honaker.

Approximately 1.8 million Americans 40 years and older have advanced age-related macular degeneration, which causes deterioration of the macula, the central area of the eye's retina that processes sharp, clear, straight-ahead vision. There are two forms of age-related macular degeneration, dry and wet. Another 7.3 million people have intermediate age-related macular degeneration and face a substantial risk of vision loss. The government estimates that, by 2020, 2.9 million people will have advanced macular degeneration. Scientists are still learning about the causes and treatment of this eye disease for which there is currently no cure.

Glaucoma is called “the sneak thief of sight,” because it often has no symptoms until there is irreversible vision loss. This makes it the leading cause of blindness worldwide, affecting approximately 65 million people, according to the World Health Organization. Although it can be clinically managed, there is no cure for glaucoma.

“Although there are not cures currently for age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma there is still action people can take to protect their eyes. Eat a varied and healthy diet, including lots of different vegetables and fruits, fish and chicken, and limit starchy carbohydrates. It really goes right back to what my family doctor says, eat a healthy diet most days, exercise daily, and don't smoke, that is a recipe for a healthy body and healthy eyes,” said Mrs. Honaker.

The American Health Assistance Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to finding cures for age-related and degenerative diseases by funding research worldwide on Alzheimer's disease, macular degeneration, and glaucoma. AHAF also provides the public with free information about these diseases, including risk factors, preventative lifestyles, available treatments, and coping strategies. For more information visit www.ahaf.org.