‘Eat for Your Eyes’ this Macula Month (1-31 May)

Macular disease is the leading cause of blindness in Australia

Knowledge is definitely power in the defence against macular disease, yet a recent study by Macular Disease Foundation Australia has highlighted the need for Australians to be more aware of macular disease and how to minimise the risk.

Macular disease is a term used to describe a number of diseases that affect the macula (located at the centre of the retina, at the back of the eye).  The macula is responsible for our detailed central vision – what we see straight in front of us. Two of the most common diseases affecting the macula include diabetic eye disease (such as diabetic retinopathy) and age-related macular degeneration.

Despite macular disease being the leading cause of blindness in Australia, a YouGov Galaxy study, commissioned by Macular Disease Foundation Australia, indicates that 91 per cent of Australians are unsure or unaware of the function of the macula.

One of the most common diseases affecting the macula, diabetic eye disease is the leading cause of preventable blindness in working-aged Australians.  Yet, the study shows that 60 per cent of people diagnosed with diabetes do not know what the macula’s function is. Alarmingly, 64 per cent of those diagnosed with diabetes are unaware that the eyes can be affected by diabetes.

When it comes to reducing the risk of macular disease, the study showed that almost a quarter (23 per cent) of Australians aged 50 and over don’t know what to do to reduce the risk of macular disease.

So, what can you do to reduce the risk of macular disease?
According to Macular Disease Foundation Australia, there are some steps that can reduce the risk of macular disease.  These include regularly having a comprehensive eye test, including a macula check, don’t smoke and maintain an eye-healthy lifestyle and diet.
What is an eye-healthy diet? Macular Disease Foundation Australia offers these three tips:

  1. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. A well-balanced diet high in antioxidants, vitamins and other nutrients can help keep our eyes healthy.
  2. Eat fish two to three times a week. Dark green leafy vegetables and fresh fruit daily, and a handful of nuts per week.
  3. Whenever possible, choose low glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates instead of high GI.

Ita Buttrose, AO OBE, Patron of Macular Disease Foundation Australia says, “May is Macula Month, and what better time to make the appointment for a comprehensive eye test.  Whether you are diabetic, aged over 50 or, like me, are at higher risk of macular disease because of family history, I encourage everyone to take steps now to reduce their risk of macular disease. My family history means that I have a 50 per cent chance of developing macular degeneration, and my children are equally at risk.  Consequently, we all do some kind of regular exercise, watch our weight, eat well and have regular eye tests. As a journalist and author, I can’t imagine losing my sight and never being able to read again.”

Ms Dee Hopkins, Chief Executive Officer of Macular Disease Foundation Australia says, “Nutrition plays an important role in optimising macular health and reducing the risk of macular disease. Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet which includes eye healthy foods is good for overall wellbeing, as well as eye health.”

“Important antioxidants for eye health include lutein and zeaxanthin.  These are present in high concentrations in a healthy macula and help to protect the eye.  They are found in dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, as well as naturally yellow fruit and vegetables like sweet corn and capsicum. In addition, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc and selenium are important antioxidants for a healthy macula.

“Many people in our community are at risk of developing macular disease but just don’t know it. Those over 50 are at higher risk of age-related macular degeneration, and everyone with diabetes is at risk of developing vision loss from diabetic eye disease.

“No matter what your age, if you have sudden changes in your vision you need to have your eyes tested immediately.

“During Macula Month, we hope that people think about their macula health, learn the risk factors associated with macular disease and have a regular, comprehensive eye examination, including having their macula checked.”

For information about macular disease, or to talk about what to do if you or a loved one has been diagnosed, contact Macular Disease Foundation Australia on Ph. 1800 111 709 or visit www.mdfoundation.com.au