Mediterranean Diet May Reduce Risk of Age-related Macular Degeneration

NOVEMBER 04, 2016
Lauren Santye, Assistant Editor
Prior research has demonstrated various health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruit and vegetables, legumes, fish, olive oil, and whole grains.

Recently, new findings reveal that individuals who follow the Mediterranean diet – with an emphasis on fruit – may decrease the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by more than one-third. Although studies have shown that the diet improves cardiovascular health and reduces the risk of cancer, there has been little to no research regarding its benefits in eye disease.

In the new study, researchers wanted to see the diet’s effect on AMD, which is the leading cause of blindness. They examined a Portuguese population to see whether adherence to the Mediterranean diet impacted the risk of AMD.

The study results showed that individuals who followed the  more frequently had a significant reduction in AMD risk, especially among those who consumed more fruit and caffeine.

The study is the first to identify that caffeine may be especially protective against AMD in findings presented at the 120th American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) 2016.

For the study, researchers examined 883 people age 55 and older in the central region of Portugal between 2013 and 2015. Of the 883 individuals, 448 had AMD in its early stages before vision loss, and 434 did not develop AMD.

To assess the diets of participants, researchers used a questionnaire that asked how frequently they ate foods associated with the Mediterranean diet. Researchers used a score of 0 to 9, with those who closely followed the diet scoring a 6 or greater, and those who did not scoring a 6 or below.

The results of the study showed that among individuals who were nonadherent to the diet, 50% had AMD, while 39% had AMD who did closely follow the diet. These findings Indicate a 35% lower risk compared with those who were nonadherent to the diet.

In regards to fruit consumption, researchers found that those who consumed higher levels of fruit were significantly less likely to have AMD. In fact, among individuals who consumed 150 grams or more of fruit daily, 54.5% did not have AMD, and 45.5% did.

Based on an odds ratio calculation, researchers found that overall, individuals who ate 150 grams of fruit or more a day were almost 15% less likely to have AMD.

To examine caffeine and antioxidants, researchers used a computer to analyze participants’ self-reported consumption of micronutrients. They found that a higher consumption of antioxidants such as caffeine, beta-carotene, and vitamins C and E acted as a protectant against AMD.

For those who consumed 78-mg of caffeine daily, 54.4% did not have AMD and 45.1% had AMD.

Although caffeine is not technically considered a part of the Mediterranean diet, it is common for individuals in Mediterranean countries to consume caffeine-containing foods like tea and coffee.

“This research adds to the evidence that a healthy, fruit-rich diet is important to health, including helping to protect against macular degeneration,” said lead study author Rufino Silva. “We also think this work is a stepping stone towards effective preventive medicine in AMD.”

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