Australian researchers looked at the association between the intake of red meat or chicken and the subsequent risk of AMD in 6,734 people aged 58–69 years from 1990 to 1994. Meat intake was estimated from a food frequency questionnaire. 10 years later these researchers used digital macular photographs of both eyes to determine if AMD was present. They found 1,680 cases of early AMD and 77 cases of late AMD developed with major loss of central vision.
After adjusting their data for known risk factors including age, smoking, and other potential factors, they found that increased red meat intake was positively associated with early AMD. Those that consumed on average more than 10 servings of red meat per week were nearly 50% more likely to develop early AMD over the next 10 years. Similar trends of increasing prevalence of early AMD were seen with higher intakes of both fresh and processed red meats. Conversely, people who consumed chicken 3.5 times/week compared to less than 1.5 times/week had about a 50% reduction in the development late AMD.1
Bottom Line: Mounting evidence implicates the consumption of red and processed meats with an increased risk of AMD. Of course, the evidence is far stronger linking the consumption of red and processed meats to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and at least several types of cancer. Those concerned about developing AMD may be counseled to reduce their intake of red and processed meats and replace it with more fish, chicken, or nuts to reduce their risk of AMD. People concerned about losing their eyesight to AMD could also be encouraged to eat more dark green and yellow vegetables rich in lutein and zeaxanthin. These carotenoids appear to protect the macular from damage. And they might also be encouraged to avoid trans fats and salt and perhaps use a little extra virgin olive oil on their salads, which would enhance the absorption of those carotenoids and also provide other phytochemicals that appear to help protect the eyes from further damage.
By James J Kenney, PhD, RD, FACN
1 Am J Epidemiology 2009;169:867-876
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.