Antioxidants Prevent Blindness in Aging Population

Macular degeneration is a degenerative eye disease that attacks the macula, that part of the retina responsible for sharp, central vision. Researchers at Brigham Young and Weill Medical College of Cornell University have discovered a link between two processes in the retina that when combined could contribute to the development of macular degeneration. However, the study also reveals how a diet rich in antioxidants can help halt the onset of macular degeneration.

A new study by researchers at Brigham Young University and Weill Medical College of Cornell University has shown how a diet rich in antioxidants could halt the leading cause of age-related blindness, age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The study reveals how a diet consisting of foods such as artichokes, blueberries and pecans can prevent macular degeneration.

Researchers had discovered a link between two process in the retina that when combined contribute to macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindess in developing countries. However, they found that antioxidants disrupts this link and extends the lifespan of photoreceptors and other retinal cells. According to Heidi Vollmer-Snarr, “The implication is that peple at risk of macular degeneration could help prevent the disease by consuming antioxidants.”

The study published in the September 5, 2008 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, shows a destructive synergy between the build-up of a compound called A2E and damage to cellular “power plants” called mitochondria. A2E is a naturally occurring byproduct of cellular activity that won’t breakdown or be disposed by the body.

The problem occurs when A2E encounters oxidative stress created by light exposure. In this circumstance, A2E disrupts energy production of the mitochondria, which creates an energy shortage in the retinal cells. This disrupts the daily cleaning and maintenance of the irreplacable photoreceptors and another type of retinal cell.

The result of the A2E buildup and the disruption of the daily cleaning processes speeds the death of these retinal cells. Once these cells die, they are not replaced. Experiments performed with aid of visual cells from rats, cows and humans demonstrated that antioxidants could completely counter the damage and halt the development of macular degeneration. The study conducted by Dr. Vollmer-Snarr and colleagues ties together two damaging processes and demonstrates the harm they cause in combination is much more than originally suspected. It also suggests that interventions may possibly prevent or delay age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) currently affects more than 1.7 million people in the USA alone, and predictions have this number rising to approximately 3 million by 2020 due to the rapidly aging population. People with macular degeneration lose their central vision, and in some cases become blind.


BYU Press Release August 19, 2008
Media Contact: Joe Hadfield
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