Expert Q&A

Blindness: Causes and Suggestions for Reducing Diabetics' Risks

I have heard a lot of people with diabetes eventually go blind. What is the best type of food to decrease my risk of macular degeneration?

Macular degeneration is one of the most common causes of vision impairment. In the United States, it affects approximately 1.75 million people. The disease works by destroying the center of the retina, essentially eliminating central vision, making reading and driving nearly impossible.

Diabetes and blindness

Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in the United States for persons between the ages of 20 and 74. Eye disease is 25 times more common among diabetics than in the general population. As hyperglycemia plays a role, it is imperative for people with diabetes to keep their blood sugar under good control. Good glycemic control is a hemoglobin A1C of less than 7 percent. In general, every percentage point drop in A1C blood test results reduces the risk of microvascular complications, such as eye, kidney, and nerve diseases, by 40 percent.

Microvascular disease and blindness

Another cause of blindness is due to microvascular disease. This condition refers to changes in the small-size blood vessels walls which thicken, becoming hard and non-elastic. Blood vessels also become clogged with mounds of plaque, which may eventually block the flow of blood. When this happens in and around the eye, damage and blindness occurs.

Smoking and blindness

Smoking 1 or more packs of cigarettes a day doubles a person's chance of developing macular degeneration. Smoking may speed the process of degeneration by damaging chemical compounds needed for pigment production; or by reducing the flow of blood, protective nutrients, and oxygen to the eye.

What can you do to prevent macular degeneration/blindness?

Phytonutrients found in plants can help prevent macular degeneration; carotenoids like beta carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin are particularly effective.

To protect yourself from blindness, eat:

  • Apricots
  • Basil
  • Carrots
  • Leafy greens
  • Parsley
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon.

Stack the odds in your favor by combining these carotenoid-rich foods. For example, enjoy a tomato salad with fresh basil or a fresh fruit salad with watermelon and apricots.

Cindy Guirino, RD/LD, CDE, CNSD, ACE PT
Contributing Expert

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