Embracing the Mediterranean diet, especially through increasing the intake of fruit, may reduce the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), by one third. The study, presented at the recent 120th anniversary of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) meeting, is also the first to identify that caffeine may be protective against the development of AMD.
Numerous studies have confirmed the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which emphasises eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, healthy fats and fish while limiting red meat and butter. Improved heart health and reduced risk of cancer are among these benefits however there has been little research on whether they can extend to eye disease.
Researchers studied a Portuguese population to see whether adherence to the diet impacted people’s risk of AMD. Their findings revealed a significant reduction in risk in those who ate a Mediterranean diet most frequently, particularly among those who consumed more fruit and caffeine.
The University of Coimbra researchers in Portugal studied 883 people age 55 or older in the central region of the country between 2013 and 2015. Of those, 449 had early stage AMD (before vision loss). Researchers assessed their diet via a questionnaire asking how often they ate foods associated with the Mediterranean diet. The more frequently they ate foods associated with the diet, the higher the score, on a scale of zero to nine. Those who closely followed the diet scored a six or greater. The findings were as follows:
I have long provided dietary advice to patients. It’s great to have new evidence to back this up
Higher Mediterranean diet adherence scores confirmed lower AMD risk. Of those who did not closely follow the diet (score below six), 50 per cent had AMD, of those who closely follow the diet (score six or above), only 39 per cent had AMD. This represents a 35 per cent lower risk.
Fruits were especially beneficial. Foods consumption analysis showed that people who consumed higher levels of fruit were significantly less likely to have AMD. Of those who consumed 150 grams or more fruit per day, 54.5 per cent did not have AMD. Overall, people who ate that much fruit (or more) each day were almost 15 per cent less likely to have AMD, based on an odds ratio calculation.
Caffeine and antioxidants were also protective as determined via a computer analysis of the participants’ micronutrient consumption. Higher consumption of antioxidants such as caffeine, beta-carotene and vitamins C and E was shown to be protective against AMD. Of those who consumed high levels of caffeine (about 78 mg per day, the equivalent of one shot of espresso), 54.4 per cent did not have AMD.
Although caffeine is not considered part of the Mediterranean diet per se, consumption of caffeine-containing drinks such as coffee and tea is common in Mediterranean countries. The researchers looked at caffeine consumption because it is a powerful antioxidant known to be protective against other conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Optometrist Alan Saks was excited by this research stating, “I have long provided dietary advice to patients. It’s great to have new evidence to back this up”.
Australian research by Dr. Liubov Robman at CERA, published in 2014, also shows that a diet consisting largely of grains, fish, steamed or boiled chicken, vegetables, fruit, nuts and low in red meat – the hallmarks of a Mediterranean diet – was associated with a lower prevalence of advanced AMD.
Check out Ita Buttrose’s cook book Eating for Eye Health – the Macular Degeneration Cookbook, for eye health recipes.