Judy Dench, who played ‘M,’ head of British Secret Service in seven James Bond movies, broke hearts recently when she spoke openly about her failing eyesight.
Dame Judy, aged 84, disclosed that she is victim of age-related macular degeneration, which causes slow and steady deterioration of the cells in the macula, the pigmented part of the eye in the center of the retina where vision is most focused.
The condition creates a little cloud right in the field of vision and makes straight lines wavy, making it difficult to read, write, drive or even walk.
Dame Judy announced she has accepted her condition stoically as simply a poor genetic roll of the dice, since her mother suffered from it, too.
She says that she now requires scripts in 22-point type and that she finds it difficult to watch films, a favorite pastime, relying on friends to describe what is happening.
She also had to lean on friends like Maggie Smith to help her get around in India when they were filming The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Leading cause of blindness
AMD is always referred to as ‘age-related’ because it is more common in people over 50. It’s the number one cause of irreversible blindness, affecting 11 million in the US and 600,000 in the UK, and predicted to rise to 30 million sufferers in the US alone by 2030.
But AMD has nothing to do with age, and everything to do with environmental factors and nutrition.
One major, but little known culprit is blue light. Research from Harvard has shown that blue light from sunlight, fluorescent light, and modern computers, smart phones and tablets – is particularly dangerous for the retina because it penetrates more deeply into the eyes than does ordinary ultraviolet light, causing damage to the rods and cones of the retina responsible for central sight.
And increasingly, evidence points to not old age, per se, but to years of a highly processed diet and nutritional deficiencies, which often become marked as we age. Smoking and even chemical-laden household cleansers have also been linked with AMD.
But the good news is that if you have AMD or have a family history of it, you can reverse or improve the condition with a number of lifestyle changes.
Eat your greens
Chief among them is eating your greens (and your orange, yellow and red food). All the carotenoids – but especially the super antioxidants zeaxanthin, lutein and meso-zeaxanthin – have been shown to protect the eyes from free-radical damage and from damaging blue light.
Foods like spinach and kale are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, and research shows that getting at least 5.8 mg of these special antioxidants can decrease your risk of AMD by a whopping 57 percent.
But it’s essential that you get adequate amounts of all three to maintain a healthy macula, particularly as levels of all three can tend to diminish as you age.
One study showed the three carotenoids can increase the density of pigment inside the macula, which helps to improve many aspects of eyesight, including the ability to discern bright color and fine detail, and deal with glare or brightness.
Since it is difficult to get all of these from food, the best solution is supplements. British naturopath Dr Harald Gaier recommends daily dosages of 15 mg of lutein, 10 mg of meso-zeaxanthin and 2 mg of zeaxanthin for optimal eye health.
Another overlooked supplement is zinc. Retired American nutritional pioneer Dr Melvyn Werbach has long recommended zinc as the single most important supplement for AMD patients, largely because the retina contains a higher concentration of zinc than any other part of the body.
If you are low in zinc – and most people are, who aren’t supplementing – you are likely to have a reduced activity of catalase, an enzyme in the tissues of the macula that is essential to sight. Below-par activity of this enzyme is associated with AMD.
In one study of some 150 patients, those given zinc for one or two years kept significantly more visual acuity than those given a placebo.
A diagnosis of AMD is not a passport to blindness, but a wake-up call to clean up your food, supplements and surroundings.
Now if only someone would let Dame Judy in on this secret intelligence.