High fat intake - especially saturated fat - is associated with macular degeneration


Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss in Americans over 60 years of age. This disease involves cell death in the macula of the eye, which has a high density of cone cells and is responsible for central vision.1 

A recent study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology2 investigated the relationship between fat intake and the presence of intermediate AMD 4-7 years later in over 1700 women, and found that some fats may benefit eye health while others may be damaging.

Total fat.Women aged 50-75 who consumed the highest proportion of calories from fat (43%) had the greatest risk of AMD – 70% higher odds than those with the lowest proportion of calories from fat (21%). As the authors stated,

"High-fat diets might be a marker for diets that are poor in many micronutrients that could protect against age-related macular degeneration.”3

They then looked further into the associations between specific types of dietary fat and AMD.

Saturated fats are detrimental when it comes to heart disease and cancer, so these results are no surprise - saturated fats showed the greatest association with AMD – 60% increased odds of AMD in women who consumed the greatest amounts. Monounsaturated fats, which are present in nuts, seeds, and avocados, were associated with a lower prevalence of the disease.

The associations between polyunsaturated fats and AMD are more difficult to interpret – the authors reported that both omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids were associated with a two-fold risk of AMD. But don’t overreact and throw away your walnuts and flaxseeds - the intakes of omega-3 and -6 in this study were highly correlated to one another, making it difficult to discern the effects of one from the other. Also, a 12-year study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition last month found that people at high risk for AMD were less likely to develop the disease if they had a greater intake of omega-3 fats.4 The authors of the current study hypothesized that excessive omega-6 fatty acid intake may influence AMD by promoting inflammation that can contribute to retinal damage. Vegetable oils, processed foods, and animal products contain high levels of omega-6 fats – with that in mind, the authors also stress that the associations that they found likely do not represent effects of only the types of fat, but the cumulative effects of the all the compounds in the foods that contain each type of fat.3

The evidence is overwhelming that a Nutritarian diet-style, with raw seeds and nuts as the major fat source, and the high exposure to phytochemicals and carotenoids is the healthiest way to eat. Can you imagine all the personal medical tragedies that could be prevented?   It would sure put a lot of drug companies and doctors out of business.



1. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/maculardegeneration.html

2. Parekh N et al. Association Between Dietary Fat Intake and Age-Related Macular Degeneration in the Carotenoids in Age-Related Eye Disease Study (CAREDS). An Ancillary Study of the Women's Health Initiative. Arch Ophthalmol. 2009;127(11):1483-1493.

3. http://www.medpagetoday.com/Ophthalmology/GeneralOphthalmology/16950

4. Sangiovanni JP et al. {omega}-3 Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid intake and 12-y incidence of neovascular age-related macular degeneration and central geographic atrophy: a prospective cohort study from the Age-Related Eye Disease Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Oct 7. [Epub ahead of print]


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Comments (7) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
David Meyer - November 23, 2009 4:06 PM

So many Americans have vision that gets worse and worse as the years go by. My co-workers are always looking at my computer screen and shocked at how small all the letters are compared to on their screens.

They are always telling me how old they are. When one of them is only 40 which is 8 years older than myself.

Why have Americans accepted this old worn out notion that it is normal to fall apart as we age?

Freddie Palumbo - November 23, 2009 6:13 PM

Dr, eating raw nuts and seeds is very convenient for me because I enjoy them so much. I want to optimize the nutrient level in my consumption of them. Can you in some way please devote an article or lecture,etc. on the different levels of nutrient density in the many different varieties of nuts and seeds. Maybe produce a chart like you did in one of the diet videos on vegetables. Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

mrfreddy - November 23, 2009 11:02 PM

At 43% fat, you're still eating a lot of carbs. Let's assume 15% protein, the remainder, 42% is all carbs. 42% of the diet is sugar. On a 2000 calorie diet, that's over 800 calories, a full cup of sugar and then some. And yet we blame the macular degeneration on saturated fats?

Deana Ferreri - November 24, 2009 9:54 AM

Freddie - There is a chart comparing the nutrient density of many nuts and seeds in Dr. Fuhrman's book Eat for Health - book 2, page 82.

mrfreddy - Yes, as the authors said, the effects are probably not due to saturated fat alone, but the combined actions of many factors in high saturated fat foods and an overall high saturated fat diet. In the general population, those with the highest saturated fat intake are probably getting much of that saturated fat from meat and dairy and are likely eating a lot of processed foods and refined sugars.

Sam - November 25, 2009 12:15 PM

mrfreddy - Allow me to complete your thought.
"At 43% fat, you're still eating a lot of carbs. Let's assume 15% protein, the remainder, 42% is all carbs."

This was just the profile of the first group mentioned. The comparison was against another group at a 21% fat intake. Following your logic @15% protein, the second group is > 60% carbohydrate, or sugar, as you point out. If carbs are to blame (as appears to be your implication), how come the 21% fat/ 64% sugar group were at significantly lower odds for AMD?

Trish Simmons - February 5, 2010 5:05 PM

Is there any information available on the effects of Dr. Fuhrman's Diet and reducing or eliminating glaucoma? I have read so much information from various doctors that stress taking vitamin A in high concentrations (10,000 mg) as well as the B vitamins and C. Then I read Eat To Live and I see that Dr. Fuhrman does not endorse high concentrations of any vitamins as we should be getting them from eating a healthful nutrient dense diet. I think I should discontinue taking the high dosage vitamins for my eyes, and continue eating the Eat to Live way, but I am worried about not giving my eyes the best I can.

rina - July 3, 2010 8:47 PM

Dr. Fuhrman, is that possible to lose all fat from our diets? fats like double-edged knife sometimes are needed but it also dangerous to the body.

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