Pregnancy and Macular Degeneration Risk

Pregnancy and Macular Degeneration Risk

Your body goes through all sorts of physical and mental changes while pregnant. Some are obvious such as nausea, weight gain, and structural reshaping (hips widen, breasts enlarge, etc.). However, there are many other systemic adjustments that are not so obvious. Most are to maintain optimal health for you and your baby but, although good intentioned, some may trigger adverse reactions which could compromise your well-being. This includes your vision and several studies suggest that, in some cases, pregnancy may risk macular degeneration development.

Good Oil

DHA is docosahexaenoic acid found in omega-3 fatty acid that makes up essential structural components of the human brain, cerebral cortex, skin, and retina. DHA is transferred from the mother to the fetus during pregnancy playing an important role in eye formation, particularly rod and cone photoreceptors.

According to research work by Ann Hardin Shaw of Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College,

“DHA acts as an essential structural component in the retina with many protective functions. DHA protects against inflammation, oxidative damage, and ischemia, all of which are possible pathogenic factors for the development of AMD [age-related macular degeneration]”

Currently, Omega-3 supplements either as a capsule of fish oil or algae oil (for plant-based eaters) have been used in a variety of studies showing systemic beneficial effects including those related to vision.

Combined meta-analysis research of nine studies that included approximately 90,000 participants was published in the Archives of Ophthalmology. It reported that,

“Our study showed that Omega-3 fatty acid intake, comparing the highest with the lowest intake category, was associated with a 38% reduction in the likelihood of late AMD [age-related macular degeneration].”

Making sure you receive optimal amounts of DHA is paramount for your eye health and that of your offspring. Also, keep an eye on your own eyes with accelerated checkups during your pregnancy and at least twice per year when not pregnant.

Seattle based optometrist, Dr. Margaret Carter, commented to K5 News on one possible eye symptom to look for during and after pregnancy,

“One thing I see a lot of is macular degeneration in women…You’ll have a spot where you can’t see out of, its called a scotoma, and over a 20-minute period it will travel to the side and become waves and maybe jagged waves and then you’ll get a migraine or a headache after that,”

Be aware of these and other visual symptoms particularly during and after pregnancy.

It’s All In The Milk

DHA is also transferred to an infant through breast milk. Researchers have determined that the longer you breastfeed not only does your baby benefit, but your own eyes may benefit as well.

Healio Ocular Surgery News reported on research results from the Tromsø Study conducted in Norway which stated,

“Longer duration of lactation and breastfeeding was associated with a reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration later in the mother’s life.”

A similar study by Turkish researchers published in Medical Science Monitor concluded that,

“The action of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in infant nourishment is especially important because DHA is characteristically collected in the membrane lipids of the brain and retina, where it is critical to visual and neural function. The first year of life is an important period in which a dietary intake of DHA and arachidonic acid (ARA) can optimize visual development in term infants…Refractive errors were more frequent in Group 1 (no breast feeding) than in Group 2 (breast feeding and formula) or Group 3 (breast feeding only).”

ARA is found in Omega-6 and is important, but not as important as DHA. It can be found in supplement form as well, often in combined formulas of Omega-3 and 6.

Lower BMI

You may be concerned about being unable to lose belly fat after giving birth. You should be. Going over the allotted BMI (body mass index) scale for pregnant women could cause future problems for your vision.

According to research published in Ophthalmology,

“The only other study that specifically evaluated progression from early or intermediate AMD to advanced AMD also demonstrated an increased risk with higher BMI. That study also found an association between progression of AMD and waist-hip ratio and waist circumference as measures of abdominal adiposity.”

It is easy to succumb to the pressures of parenthood and forget your health but losing belly fat could be an essential component in maintaining optimal eye health. Breastfeeding may help shrink the uterus back to its normal size and with a healthy diet and exercise could reduce excess fat tissue.

Keep Your Heart On

When systemic circulation is affected your eyes can suffer. Pregnancy requires extra work by the heart and certain complications could arise as your body struggles with this almost year long responsibility. One such complication is called choroidal neovascularization (CNV) a subtype of AMD.

Researchers at the University of Utah Health, Salt Lake City published a study in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology (January 2018) stating the risk of CNV AMD, 

“Of 1,796,341 birth certificates evaluated, we included 94,362 subjects: 31,454 exposed and 62,908 matched unexposed. A total of 2,036 women were diagnosed with AMD…exposed

women were 25% more likely to develop the choroidal neovascularization (CNV) subtype of AMD…with highest hazard ratios for earlier-onset CNV AMD.”

Your doctor and you should remain vigilant when it comes too your heart health during pregnancy. Not only is it essential for mother and baby it could prevent the risk of developing macular degeneration.

Pregnancy is challenging enough so having to worry about your future vision shouldn’t be an additional stress. Make sure you have at least two eye checkups during your pregnancy and report any symptoms, no matter how minor, to your health practitioner.

Macular degeneration is one of the leading causes of blindness so early detection is paramount for optimal treatment. Be sure to maintain a healthy diet before, during and after pregnancy which includes fatty fish and/or Omega-3 supplements. Add in an exercise program that works for you and your overall health as well as your vision should be in good hands.