“Let food be thy medicine” is an oft-quoted edict by Hippocrates that has stood the test of time. Sun Si Maio, the greatest doctor of the Tang Dynasty, said that “the superior doctor should first adjust the patient’s diet and lifestyle. Only if that does not eliminate disease should the doctor go on to administer acupuncture and herbs.”

It starts with diet

Modern research has converged toward the old adage “you are what you eat.” The Seven Countries Study, The China Study, along with other important large studies—for example, the Framingham Heart Study, Nurses' Health Study, Women's Health Initiative, The Rotterdam Study, The Gutenberg Study—as well as observations gleaned from the “Blue Zones” represent a compendium magnum that confirms that your diet plays a major role in health and longevity. Most do not know these same studies, along with a plethora of others, demonstrate that diet plays an important role in the prevention of vision loss.

They all confirm that a plant-based diet that’s rich in fiber and low in saturated fats and animal protein can help improve your chance of avoiding blindness from age-related macular degeneration. This begs the question, is a healthy diet enough to preserve vision loss?

Promoting healthy vision

My answer is “no” given the ubiquitous use of nutrient-robbing pharmaceuticals, mineral depleted soil, stress, obesity, sedentary habits, excessive exposure to copper and iron, sun exposure, smoking and a grossly high intake of trans-fats and sugar. Our diets have created digestive incompetence across the Western world and in countries that adopt our eating habits. In other words, as a population, we are not getting the nutrients we need from our diets to support healthy eyes and brains.

“The most important thing for the public to realize is that not all patients should take the same supplement formulas.”

In fact, eye doctors regularly prescribe supplements for macular degeneration, which is now considered standard of care. Eye doctors may be well versed on this topic thanks to the groundbreaking group of studies known as the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS). The AREDS confirm that specific nutrients, in supplemental form, can help slow the course of age-related macular degeneration in some people. AREDS nutrients include vitamins A, C, E, zinc, zopper, lutein and zeaxanthin.

However, there are contemporary studies that support the targeted use of additional nutrients at various doses according to individual genetic makeup and lifestyles that were not included in the AREDS studies. These include alpha-lipoic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, glutathione, polyphenols, magnesium, and vitamin D3 to name a few.

What’s right for you

The most important thing for the public to realize is that not all patients should take the same supplement formulas. For example, for some individuals, a high dose of zinc could cause damage in the eyes, the brain, and the body. Likewise excessive intake of calcium, which is used to treat other medical conditions, may be detrimental in some individuals with age-related macular degeneration. Similarly, other studies show that omega-3 fats are critical in slowing inflammation associated with macular degeneration despite this not being included in the AREDS study recommendations. Contrarily, it is probably safe for all individuals to consume high dose carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin.

All medicine, to include supplements, should be individualized to a patient’s medical and social history along with their genetic and environmental risks. If I could turn back time and give advice to my grandmother, who went blind from eye disease, I would tell her to wear her sunglasses, lose weight, walk daily, eat lots of brightly colored fruits and vegetables, fatty fish and nuts, drink red wine, eat dark chocolate and smile.

More importantly, I would tell her to find a doctor that takes the time to understand her on a truly holistic basis, and prescribe supplement treatments accordingly.