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Diet a Key to Vision Health, Leading Scientist Tells BrightFocus Audience

  • Expert Advice
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Citing research showing a strong link between dietary patterns and age-related vision disease, Tufts University researcher Sheldon Rowan, PhD, told a recent BrightFocus Chat about the impact of lifestyle choices, such as diet and exercise, on the likelihood of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness.

Headshot of Dr. Sheldon Rowan.
Dr. Sheldon Rowan

According to Dr. Rowan, Americans who eat what is referred to as a Western Diet – high in processed and fried foods, fats, and sugar – have, “increased risk of advanced macular degeneration, also earlier macular degeneration.”  He contrasted this to what is often termed as the Mediterranean Diet, for which adherents have a “dramatically decreased risk” for the disease.  The latter dietary pattern relies heavily on fruits, vegetables, and fish among other food groups.

Offering advice to listeners seeking to start vision-healthy changes in their diet, Dr. Rowan suggested beginning with small, incremental changes, such as whole grain bread instead of white bread, or turkey in place of ham.  He encouraged people to not be afraid to get help from experts, saying, “this is what dieticians do, they’ve been training, working in hospitals, with thousands of patients, to do these exact things.”

Dr. Rowan’s current research in this area is examining the role of the gut microbiome in vision health, ground-breaking work that is supported by a grant from Macular Degeneration Research, a BrightFocus Foundation program.

Dr. Rowan expressed great hope for the future of vision research, saying scientists’ increased understanding of the mechanisms of AMD are leading to both opportunities for new treatments and also a better sense of the role of lifestyle choices in saving sight as one ages.  Improved lifestyle choices, he said, not only lower your risk of macular degeneration, but also conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

View a transcript of Dr. Rowan’s remarks and answers to listener questions.

The BrightFocus Chats, launched in 2014, are free, monthly telephone discussions with leading experts in the field of vision health. Previous Chats are archived as both audio files and transcripts.

Join an upcoming Chat.

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