Fats to Avoid/Fats to Include for Macular Degeneration
By Leah Kleinschrodt, MS, RD, LD
April 17, 2018
Did you know that your eating patterns and daily foods choices can set the stage for lifelong clear vision, or a gradual decline into fuzzy, blurred objects and eventual darkness? Our recent Dishing Up Nutrition episode with special guest Dr. Chris Knobbe, board-certified ophthalmologist, featured a fascinating discussion of important nutrition connections to age-related macular degeneration (AMD). You may be surprised to learn that AMD is the leading cause of irreversible vision loss and blindness in the developed world.1 In AMD, inflammation and reduced blood/oxygen flow cause damage to the photoreceptors (rods and cones) and blood vessels of the macula of the retina. Symptoms of AMD include blurred vision, blind spots, difficulty seeing in dim light, and difficulty switching to night vision, all of which will only get worse over time.
Causes of Macular Degeneration
The retina of the eye is abundant in fatty acids (yet another crucial use of fat in our bodies), and therefore our eyes need the right kinds of fats to remain functional and structurally sound over our entire lifetime. Dr. Knobbe’s extensive research and clinical observations led him to argue that our sky-rocketing consumption of refined vegetable oils and trans-fats over the last century is one of the most critical factors in the increasing prevalence of AMD today. Vegetable oils and trans-fats, which include soybean, canola, corn, and cottonseed oils, as well as hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils, undergo extensive heat and chemical processing. By the end of that process, they are oxidized (damaged) and cause inflammation to all the tissues in our bodies, including our eyes. To add insult to injury, these types of fats also make their way into most man-made and high-sugar foods, such as cakes, pastries, fried foods, salad dressings, dips, margarines, coffee creamers, cooking oils, and more. That makes these foods a double-whammy of inflammation for our eyes!
Eat This, Not That for Macular Degeneration
To prevent and treat AMD, Dr. Knobbe encourages his patients, and we full-heartedly agree, to ditch the modern, inflammatory oils in their diets and return to traditional, anti-inflammatory, nutrient-rich fats instead. These are the fats that our great-grandparents used every day: organic, grass-fed animal fats like butter, lard and tallow (beef fat), pastured eggs, full-fat dairy, and wild-caught fish, along with fats contained in pastured meats and organs (liver, heart, kidneys). Not only are the fatty acids in these foods whole and intact, they are also wonderful sources of vital fat-soluble nutrients, like vitamins A, D, and K2, all of which are crucial for retina development in babies and lifelong eye health.
Dr. Knobbe also gives special mention to the omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA. The highest concentration of DHA in the retina is found in the same photoreceptors (rods/cones) mentioned above. Our best food sources of omega-3 fatty acids and DHA are fatty fish like salmon and sardines, algae, pastured eggs, and cod-liver oil. If you don’t eat fish or eggs frequently, supplementing with omega-3s or DHA can also be a smart prevention plan.
- Knobbe, CA. Ancestral Dietary Strategy to Prevent and Treat Macular Degeneration. Springville, UT: Vervante Corporation; 2016.