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HEALTH REPORT - Progression of Age-Related Macular Degeneration - 2004-01-27

Broadcast: January 28, 2004

This is Phoebe Zimmermann with the VOA Special English Health Report.

American researchers say that eating fatty foods can worsen the progress of the eye disease called age-related macular degeneration or A-M-D.

A-M-D is a major cause of blindness among people over the age of fifty in industrial nations. Experts say that five-hundred-thousand people around the world are found to have A-M-D each year. They say more than twenty-five-million people are affected by some kind of A-M-D. And they expect the number to increase during the next twenty-five years.

The cause of A-M-D is unknown. The disease destroys the central part of the retina, the cells at the back of the eye that gather light. This area of the eye is called the macula. Macular degeneration causes abnormal blood vessels to grow there. These blood vessels can bleed and damage tissue. A person with the disease can see little or nothing out of the center of the eye.

There are two kinds of macular degeneration. The most common and less severe kind is called the “dry form.” It may or may not develop into the other kind of A-M-D, known as the “wet form.” This kind of A-M-D causes most of the serious vision loss. It involves the leaking blood vessels.

The first sign of the disease is usually a loss of visual clearness. Later, people have trouble reading, driving and recognizing faces. Blindness is the end result.

The new study was reported in the publication “The Archives of Ophthalmology.” It involved about two-hundred-sixty people with at least some vision loss from macular degeneration. The researchers studied them for more than four years.

They found that the chance of the disease getting worse was two times greater in the people who ate highly fatty foods such as baked goods sold in stores. They said both vegetable and animal fats were responsible. The researchers said that diets high in meat and milk products also increased the chances of the disease becoming worse, but not as much as baked foods. And they said the people in the study who ate a lot of fish and nuts reduced the chances that their macular degeneration would get worse.

The researchers said little evidence exists about what affects the progress of A-M-D. They called for more research into the link between fats and A-M-D.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Nancy Steinbach.