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My wife often serves baked fish with spinach. It turns out it that not only tastes good, it may help preserve vision. According to a study just released by Tufts Medical Center, that meal contains nutrients that reduce the risk of macular degeneration.

The macula is a small area at the back of your eye. That portion of your eye is used for sharp focus in the center of your field of vision. Should the macula degenerate (macular degeneration) objects directly in front of you will appear fuzzy. Reading, driving, and recognizing objects become difficult. You can still see – but cannot focus on the things you look at directly.  

There are two types of macular degeneration – dry form and wet form. In the dry form the cells in the back of the eye thin and break down. Waste deposits build up on the macula, damage it. The wet form is triggered when blood vessels abnormally grow in the back of the eye. These break easily, leaking blood and fluid under the macula, damaging it. Wet form macular degeneration can develop quickly.

Macular degeneration affects adults, usually developing after age fifty. It seems to run in families. If your siblings or parents had macular degeneration, you are at greater risk for it. At present, there is no cure for macular degeneration, and all doctors can do right now is slow its progress. Reducing your risk factors is critical to those with a family history of macular degeneration and those diagnosed with early stages of this condition.

Vitamin D

You cannot change your parents, but the Tufts study seems to show that a diet high in vitamin D reduces the risk of developing macular degeneration and slows its progress once it appears. Vitamin D has anti-inflammatory properties, which seems to reduce the risk of macular degeneration. Vitamin D also seems to retard growth of new blood vessels under the macula. Without these abnormal blood vessels there is less blood leakage.  

The study also showed that a high intake of betaine and methionine also slow progression of macular degeneration due to epigenetic mechanisms. Basically this means they seem to help cells replicate properly as you age. The macular cells become less likely to thin or break down, and less likely to grow new blood vessels.  

Finally, smoking is believed to accelerate the tendency of cells to “forget” genetic information as you age – something that aggravates macular degeneration. Reducing your chances of developing macular degeneration is another great reason to never start smoking, and another reason to quit.  

How do you add vitamin D, betaine, and methionine to your diet? Fish and milk are good sources of all three. Other sources of methionine are poultry, and dairy foods like cheese and yogurt, while betaine is found in grains and spinach. Foods such as fish with spinach – or a cheese Florentine pizza – are an appetizing way to help keep you seeing sharp.

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By Mark N. Lardas. Copyright © 2011 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Tufts Press Release

Paper:  "Smoking, Dietary Betaine, Methionine, and Vitamin D in Monozygotic Twins with Discordant Macular Degeneration: Epigenetic Implications”.

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