Macular disease linked to alcohol intake

As someone who has a potentially serious eye condition, I pay particular attention to any news stories regarding vision health. That’s why my internal alarm sounded when an email referring to macular disease arrived in my inbox this week. My symptoms relate to glaucoma, not macular disease, but both conditions can result in vision loss, so my interest was piqued.

From Jonathan Abbott, communications manager at Macular Disease Foundation Australia, the email advised of new nutritional guidelines. Given age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects 1.5 million Australians, a change in guidelines is potentially very important.

One of the standout points accompanying the updated guidelines is the role alcohol plays in the onset of AMD. New research indicates consuming more than 12g of alcohol per day is linked to a higher risk of developing irreversible vision loss. To reach 12g of alcohol takes less than one large glass of wine or a large beer. 

In other words, not much by Australian standards. So, what are the new recommendations in terms of alcohol specifically, and nutrition in general, when it comes to macular disease?

Reviving an old slogan for macular disease prevention

A few decades ago, my home state of Victoria employed a memorable slogan for a drink-driving campaign. The slogan was ‘Rethink your third drink’, if my memory serves me correctly. And I believe it was later modified to ‘Rethink your second drink’.

The obvious lesson there was to make sure you were not getting into your car and driving while intoxicated. Thanks to new research, virtually the same words – ‘rethink that second drink’ – form part of the title of a press release from the Macular Disease Foundation Australia (MDFA).

Given AMD is Australia’s leading cause of vision loss, it seems like sound advice. 

Investigating alcohol consumption was part of a review in preparation of the new guidelines released this week. The MDFA has declared May as ‘Macula Month’, and the organisation’s patron, Ita Buttrose, has spoken of its importance.

“My father had age-related macular degeneration and lost his central vision.” Having a familial risk of developing the disease, Ms Buttrose has long been conscious of her food choices.

So much so that Ms Buttrose teamed up with Vanessa Jones to produce Eating for Eye Health: The Macular Degeneration Cookbook in 2009.

What have we learnt since then?

Ms Buttrose and Ms Jones could claim to have been somewhat ahead of the curve. Until now, in 2024, there have been no official guidelines for nutritional advice surrounding macular disease prevention.

But the MDFA has partnered with the University of Sydney to tackle this common chronic condition. Together they have produced the first systematic review of all the published systematic reviews. This ‘review of the reviews’ results in “the highest level of evidence to inform clinical and public health decisions”.

The evidence gleaned from that overarching review has been used to create the new guidelines, available through the MDFA website. As important as it is, alcohol intake forms only a small part of the guide. The foods you eat – or don’t eat – play an important role in the prevention and/or development of macular disease.

And it turns out the good old Mediterranean diet can go a long way to ensuring your macular health is maintained. That probably won’t surprise regular readers of YourLifeChoices health columns.

The new nutrition guidelines do go into further specifics and nuances, though, making it worth the read. The guidelines “reinforce with evidence the importance of making the best diet choices to help maintain eye health”, said Ms Buttrose. “It’s an invaluable resource for people and communities.”

And it provides an important reminder: if you don’t want to lose your sight, don’t lose sight of your alcohol intake.

Were you aware of the prevalence of macular disease in Australia? Did you know that it was linked to alcohol consumption? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: Vision problems can lead to brain health misdiagnosis

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.
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