Results from two large U.S. women's health studies add to the evidence that eating fish and vitamin D-rich foods may protect against age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in people older than 65.

One of the studies found that women who frequently ate fish high in omega-3 fatty acids were significantly less likely to develop AMD. Their fish intake was analyzed from detailed questionnaires they completed as part of the Women's Health Study. The new finding on the protective effect of eating fish jibes with earlier research that linked high fish consumption with slower progress of AMD. Good fish sources of DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, trout, sardines, herring and tuna.

milk and cheese

The second study (Carotenoids in Age-Related Eye Disease Study or CAREDS) looked at the intake of vitamin D from food or supplements (but not from exposure to sunlight) in women younger than age 75, and found a 59 percent decrease in risk of AMD in women who consumed the most vitamin D, compared with those who consumed the least. Top food sources were milk, fortified margarine, fortified cereal . . . and fish.

Formal clinical trials are needed to confirm these results and determine how much fish or fish oil, and vitamin D food or supplement intake would be needed to reliably produce such protective effects. In the meanwhile, the best thing people can do to ward off AMD is to stop smoking, or never start. Smoking is a known risk factor for AMD and for faster progression of the disease. In AMD, serious vision loss can result from abnormal blood vessel growth behind the retina ("wet" AMD), from the breakdown of light-sensitive cells in the retina ("dry" AMD) or both. While treatment can often prevent vision loss from wet AMD, there is currently no treatment for dry AMD, the more common form of the disease.

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