Smoking and AMD

We’re always talking about the risks of smoking: lung cancer, heart disease, strokes, esophageal cancer, laryngeal cancer--- it’s a long list. Well, make it one item longer, because the latest research says cigarette smoking is contributing to blindness in America! New data on twins in the archives of ophthalmology found current smoking nearly doubles the risk for macular degeneration, the leading cause of severe visual impairment and blindness among the growing older population in the u.s. It’s estimated that around a third of the 16.5 million seniors 75 and older have some form of macular degeneration, when the macula, the part of the retina, or back of the eye that gives us our central vision, deteriorates.

Phyllis Iovino just learned she has macular degeneration. “They say it’s part of the aging process but I was really shocked, I didn’t even know what macular degeneration was.” It is part of the aging process in many, but it’s accelerated by tobacco use.

 “Smoking specifically can damage the blood vessels and the tissues of the retina which are extremely vascular. In addition there can be decreased oxygen which can damage the retina as well. People who stop smoking still have an increased risk of developing macular degeneration,” says Dr. Mark Fromer, Medical Director of Fromer Eye Centers. “I don’t smoke now, I did many, many years ago,” admits Phyllis.

In fact, past smokers like Phyllis still have a 1.7 times increased risk of macular degeneration compared to non-smokers. But what you eat can protect you against blindness. The research also found that eating two or more servings of fish per week provided enough of the valuable omega-3 fatty acids—the good fats—which reduce the risk macular degeneration, cutting the odds of getting it nearly in half.

“Right now we eat a lot of processed foods leading to obesity. We need to eat omega three fatty acids to reduce tissue damage allow more oxygenation to our tissues and to help repair the cells in our body,” states Dr. Fromer. The benefits of eating more omega-3 fatty acids were most apparent among those who consumed less linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, suggesting that the proper balance of fats between omega 3 and 6 fats is key.

About a fifth of the cases were estimated as preventable with higher fish and omega-3 fatty acid dietary intake. More fish and not smoking: important for protecting the eyes against a blinding disease. “Quit as fast as you can do it, I know it’s not easy, but definitely you have to quit,” adds Phyllis.


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