Air Pollution Exposure May Link to Macular Degeneration

Air Pollution Exposure May Link to Macular Degeneration

It can be a toxic world out there and if you don’t protect yourself you could be at risk for being compromised by disease. One disease which currently afflicts approximately 11 to 15 million Americans per year is macular degeneration. There is no cure for this disease so exposing and avoiding the many potential causes is essential. Scientists continue to scramble to find the continually complex mechanisms that may “turn on” the triggers that lead to this debilitating disease. One mechanism could be air pollution. 

According to recent research, air pollution exposure may link to macular degeneration over time. Accumulated airborne toxins are now being considered as potential dangers to healthy vision, particularly when it comes to age-related macular degeneration (AMD). 

Learn how air pollution could be inconspicuously weakening your vision and some ways you may be able to protect yourself because when it comes to your eyes, that’s all you’ve got.

Super Study

Many studies have shown the different effects of air pollution on AMD but it wasn’t until one study dug in deep and analyzed upwards of 100,000 participants over a period of six years that people really begin to notice.

Researchers at the University College London began looking at 115,954 people living in a high traffic urban area in London. The healthy vision participants ranged in age from 40-69 and were tracked from 2006-2012. Researchers were able to follow any changes in vision through self-reporting and then retinal thickness was measured over time compared to a baseline at the beginning of the study. 

Working with two organizations, the Small Area Health Statistics Unit and the BioSHaRE-EU Environmental Determinants of Health Project, information linked to traffic, land use, and topography (a detailed map description of the physical features of an area) was used to calculate the annual average air pollution levels within the radius of the participant’s homes.

Using retinal imaging (non-invasive optical coherence tomography or OCT) completed data of 52,602 remaining participants surprised researchers. Structural changes in the thickness and/or numbers of light receptors in the retina were assessed, both indications of macular degeneration.

According to a report of the study by Science Daily it was stated that, 

“The research team found that people in areas with higher levels of fine particulate matter pollution were more likely to report having AMD (specifically, they found an 8% difference in AMD risk between people living in the 25th and 75th percentiles of pollution levels), after accounting for potentially influential factors such as underlying health conditions and lifestyle. All pollutants, except coarse particulate matter, were associated with changes in retinal structure.”

Not the First Time

Air pollution has been studied ever since the rise of the Industrial Revolution. It was researchers such as those in the above study that wanted to know how living amongst so many fossil fuel burning machines affected the human body. Results were so astounding that many factories and transport vehicles were mandated to filter these pollutants. However, particulate matter can still pass these filters leaving the general public at risk.  

According to the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences, diseases associated with various pollutant exposures include:

  • Alzheimers’s 
  • Parkinsons
  • Cardiovascular
  • Emphysema
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) 
  • Breast cancer
  • Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma
  • Lung cancer

In 2019, researchers from the same team at the University College London discovered that air pollution was associated with an elevated risk of glaucoma with some researchers speculating a correlation to cataract development as well. These results correlated with the macular degeneration data as more research is looking at the effects of pollution on vision across the globe. 

According to Dr Sharon Chua (UCL Institute of Ophthalmology), the paper’s first author, 

“Higher exposure to air pollution was also associated with structural features of AMD. This may indicate that higher levels of air pollution may cause the cells to be more vulnerable to adverse changes and increase the risk of AMD.”

What Can You Do?

It may be difficult to escape the ubiquitous presence of so many pollutants humans have been able to inject into daily living. From cars, trucks, and airplanes to factories and farming, pollution makes us continually vulnerable. In this case the best offense to avoiding pollution related diseases, particularly macular degeneration, is to create an interior as well as exterior defense. 

Keeping your immune system firing on all cylinders is essential when protecting yourself from airborne toxins. Along with a good amount of clean water hydration per day (4-6 glasses) these supplements may help protect you from pollutants and keep macular degeneration at bay. 

  • B-Vitamins – One study published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States) reported, “Our study demonstrated the epigenetic [non-genetic] effects of air pollution and suggested that B vitamins [folic acid (B9) and vitamins B6 and B12] might be used as prevention to complement regulations to attenuate the impact of air pollution on the epigenome [chemical changes to DNA].”
  • Heavy metal absorbers – There are some supplements you can take to absorb heavy metals inhaled from pollution. Some of these include: spirulina, chlorella, garlic, milk thistle, turmeric, cilantro, green algae.
  • Eye supplements – Keep your retina and macula in top shape by taking a potent eye supplement that contains 500 milligrams (mg) vitamin C, 400 IU vitamin E, 80 mg zinc, 10 mg lutein, 2 mg zeaxanthin, 2 mg copper

When outdoors in high pollution areas, these may be good protectants: 

  • Wear sunglasses 
  • Wear a mask
  • Check outdoor pollution forecasts before going outside 
  • Shower when you return home
  • Run an air purifier in your home 
  • Support renewable energy

Age-related macular degeneration is on course to afflict upwards of fifty-million people over the next ten years. Do everything in your power to avoid being one of these statistics. Don’t let air pollution compromise your sight. Keep yourself protected from these airborne toxins and give your vision the clear road it needs well into your old age.