Health Team

Vitamin D protects women's eyesight

Posted April 15, 2011 12:54 p.m. EDT
Updated April 15, 2011 6:18 p.m. EDT

Simply getting vitamin D can help women avoid macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness and strikes one in 10 Americans over age 40.

Dorette Wright, 47, was surprised to learn during a routine eye exam that she is in in the early stages of macular degeneration.

"It was pretty scary. I thought that initially, down the line, sooner rather than later, that my sight might be gone," she said.

New research shows that a diet rich in vitamin D can help prevent the onset of macular degeneration in women like Wright.

The study, published in the Archives of Ophthalmology, found that women under age 75 with higher levels of vitamin D in their blood are less likely to develop macular degeneration later in life.

"My theory is that vitamin D has anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation has played a big part in macular degeneration," said ophthalmologist Dr. Shantan Reedy, with New York University's Langonne Medical Center.

Although a healthy dose of sunlight remains the best way to get vitamin D in the bloodstream, sunshine alone isn't enough to prevent the disease, the study found.

"To increase it to the levels that are protective, we need to eat properly. Eat vitamin D-rich food," Reedy said.

Leafy vegetables and fish are good sources of vitamin D.

Smoking and a family history of macular degeneration can all increase the chances of getting the disease.

Wright said she has become a vegetarian and is eating better to get more vitamin D in her blood, with the hope of keeping her eyesight for years to come.