Macular Degeneration Is Still The Most Common Form Of Vision Loss in Australia

personalEYES | 17 Sep 2019

Macular Degeneration Is Still The Most Common Form Of Vision Loss in Australia

Macular degeneration is still the most common form of vision loss in Australia and will affect most Australians at some stage in their life.

It’s debilitating and costly on the health system – $5 billion a year.

“It’s been likened to putting a dab of Vaseline in the centre of your glasses and trying to look through it, and that’s just a big blur there, the object you’re looking at is blurred,” says Frank.

Leading expert on the cutting edge treatment for reversing blindness, and the foods you should eat to keep your sight, Professor Paul Beaumont says, “Everyone I’ve told not to eat too many carrots has been amazed. Many of them were having a glass of carrot juice a day thinking they were slowing down their macular degeneration… and they’re horrified to learn that the studies suggest that probably not so.”

“The people who are having lots of carrots and lots of beta-carotene in their diet developed more macular degeneration over a 10 year incident study,” adds Prof Beaumont.

The study was done by Professor Paul Mitchell. He’s followed the diet of a group of people in the Blue Mountains.

“Its followed 3500 people over a 15 year period. Within this study, for the people who ate fish, their risk of developing macular degeneration over a 10 year period was reduced to half.”

In fact macular degeneration is one of only a few diseases whose genes you can try to fight with diet.

Strong research now points to these particular super foods that will more than halve your chance of getting macular degeneration.

“We can’t change our parents, nor would we ever want to, so we can’t really change the actual genes in our body, but what we can potentially do is modify our bodies response to those genes,” says Professor Mitchell.

The macular degeneration genes have now been identified, and soon genetic tests will be available here.

“It’s not been very common in diseases like diabetes to identify a single gene, whereas in macular degeneration, we now have two that really have a major effect,”he added.

If you have the disease in the family, experts say follow the diet, take the zinc and antioxidant supplement.

Eat salmon, leafy green vegetables like broccoli, leek, spinach, bok choy, capsicum, nuts and eggs and a new development – eat foods with low glycaemic index.

But what about the contentious issue of vegetable oil?

6 years ago Professor Beaumont believed there was enough research to warn people to keep it out of their diet, to eat butter instead of margarine… today?

“There’s still a suspicion that vegetable oil is bad for you. It’s looking very interesting but it needs more work. We have an urgent need for better research, particularly in Australia,” says Professor Beaumont.

Suzanne Duncan has the early signs of macular degeneration. She’s hoping she can eat her way out of getting the full blown disease, or at least slow it down.

“I would never have thought that some of these foods could contribute to slowing down a disease,” says Suzanne.

She’s had to change her diet. An easy alternative compared to the threat of blindness.

“Without knowing how quickly this is going to progress, or whether it’s going to change overnight, I really have to be quite savage in doing the right thing,” she said.

If Suzanne’s disease does progress, she is lucky that it is treatable. But the magic bullet is a scary prospect – an injection straight into the eye.

“We can inject an antibody which will grab this molecule and turn it off, stop the vessel growing, stop the leak and stop the haemorrhaging, stop the blindness,” explains Professor Beaumont.

“If we get an eye early enough we can restore the vision.”

Frank Mason got macular degeneration in one eye 13 years ago.

He was told he’d be blind in five years, which wasn’t very good news.

“I imagined myself with a white stick and a dog its not the sort of thing you want to hear,” says Frank.
It was too late to restore the sight in that eye but when the other eye went blurry he visited Professor Beaumont immediately. After 18 Lucentis injections, his eye is clear.

“I go once a month, it’s a strange thing to say but I’m happy about having an injection in my eye,” says Frank.

Jacqueline Falls is still able to paint after her sight was restored in her right eye…again only because she detected the deterioration early.

“My main message I want to get through to people is when you go and have your eyes checked, always get your macular checked,” she says.

But Professor Mitchell has this warning to government: strike early and stop this disease in its tracks before there’s even any need for the injections. “We’re talking about a disease that costs Australia $5 billion a year, so in fact, further research funding could be found to really explore this whole idea of gene environment interaction with nutrition. It would pay off for us to reduce the overall burden from this disease.”

Today Tonight | Laura Sparkes