I couldn’t resist a nod to the song by the Who, singing about the angst of being in a generation largely misunderstood by the grownups around them.
Of course, if you’ve been diagnosed with age related macular degeneration (AMD), you may be feeling a bit of angst, too.
This progressive eye disease is most common among the elderly, and over time, creates a blurry image in your central vision. Faces of loved ones become hazy and unrecognizable and colors of everyday items become dull and non-distinct. So while AMD won’t cause total blindness, you will certainly have problems seeing things clearly.
But there’s a simple way to prevent or slow the progression of AMD and it revolves around antioxidants found in brightly colored green and orange vegetables. At the top of the list is a food that people often push to the side of their plate, relegating it to the category of a decorative garnish: that food is kale!
But first, let’s dig into the science behind what causes AMD.
Tiny Bee Bees and AMD
AMD is the most common form of eye disease in aging adults. The disease begins when the macula begins to deteriorate. The macula is a small area inside the retina in the back of the eye which has the highest visual keenness and allows one to see colors and images distinctly. Strangely, with AMD the peripheral vision usually stays intact even as damage to the central vision of the eye makes day-to-day life difficult.
Deterioration of the macula is caused by free radicals. These unstable and highly reactive atoms can damage cells and are believed to accelerate the progression of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and age-related diseases like AMD.
In an attempt to become more stable, these atoms aggressively steal electrons from healthy cells in the eyes. This theft causes oxidation. To give you an idea of the oxidation process, imagine tiny bee bees firing repeatedly into the macula tissue in the center of your eye. The pits made by the bee bees cause tissue damage that eventually leads to AMD.
We are under constant attack from free radicals! They come from pollution, stress, poor food choices, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, too much exercise, x-rays, sun exposure, industrial fumes, and the list goes on and on and on. You honestly cannot escape free radicals. They are simply a part of life.
What’s Kale Got to Do with It?
To fight the onset and progression of AMD, feast on foods that are rich in two powerhouse antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin. These antioxidants battle the oxidation process (hence the term ANTI oxidant) by creating a shield against those free radical bee bees, protecting the center of your vision. Lutein and zeaxanthin are most abundantly found in kale.
Studies from Harvard University report that consuming 6 mg of lutein per day reduces the risk of AMD by 43%. To give you some perspective, one cup of raw kale has over 22,000 micrograms of lutein. This means one cup of raw kale is less than 2% of the 6 mg you’d need per day.
I know what you’re thinking: ingesting that quantity of kale every day is impossible! And you’re right.
Luckily, lutein and zeaxanthin are found in many fruits and in vegetables in addition to kale. Although kale has the highest concentration, you can identify other fruits and vegetables high in these antioxidants by the bright rich colors of deep green and vivid orange. So for green options in addition to kale, choose collards, broccoli, peas or turnip greens. Spinach is a great choice, too, but check with your health care provider first for any complications with certain medications you may be taking. For orange, choose fresh oranges, papayas, orange bell peppers, tangerines, peaches, melon and carrots.
Don’t worry about measuring every little thing that you eat. Just know that each mouthful of kale and other antioxidant laden fruits and vegetables neutralizes the free radicals in your eyes and provides the nutrients you need for protection and repair.
One way to up your intake of these foods is to blend them into a healthy breakfast cocktail.
This morning, for example, I tossed a cup of kale into my smoothie along with two apricots, a peach, a scoop of collagen powder, a handful of walnuts, with a twist of fresh lemon juice and blended with 1 cup of fresh coconut water. (Note: I did not juice the ingredients but blended them whole in my NutriBullet, preserving the beneficial fiber content).
With my lutein and zeaxanthin shake, I ate a hard-boiled egg. This is important because the fat in the egg aids in absorption of the antioxidants that were in my drink. And guess what? Egg yolk is the one standout other than green and orange foods that is high in both lutein and zeaxanthin!
The Bottom Line
In 2010, almost 2 million Americans suffered from AMD. This number is expected to increase to over 5 million by 2050. Because of the increase in life expectancy, AMD is evolving into a major health concern for many Americans.
By eating natural foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin you can prevent or slow the progression of AMD.
Don’t miss a day of filling your body with antioxidant rich foods that support your vision.
About the co-author: With an avid interest in the human body and its ability to heal, Susan R. Halama decided to make the interest a career. She is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Holistic Nutrition and a Graduate Certificate in Health and Wellness at the American College of Healthcare Sciences. Upon completion of her education, she intends to teach others how to achieve their health and fitness personal best.