Research suggests a link between moderate and high alcohol consumption and early macular degeneration.

Macular degeneration, which some people also refer to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD or ARMD), involves a loss of central vision. It can cause eyesight to worsen and become blurred. The condition occurs due to damage to the macula, a small region of the retina responsible for precise, central vision.

Almost 2 million people in the United States have AMD, which is a leading cause of vision loss in people aged 50 years or above.

This article examines the link between alcohol and AMD, other lifestyle factors that may affect the condition, and safe alcohol limits. It also discusses the outlook for those with AMD.

Learn more about AMD here.

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A 2021 study involving over 16,000 people with AMD found that higher alcohol consumption could be a causal risk factor for geographic atrophy (GA). GA is a feature of advanced AMD, resulting in blind spots in a person’s vision. More research is necessary to confirm the link.

While other studies have found links between AMD, alcohol consumption, and other lifestyle factors, the 2021 study indicates that alcohol consumption, alongside smoking, may contribute to AMD. Limiting these behaviors can reduce the risk of AMD.

The study is significant, as there are no current treatments for GA. AMD is a major cause of blindness, and experts predict the prevalence of AMD to increase by 47% over the next 20 years due to population aging.

There is less evidence to support a link between alcohol consumption and AMD, compared with smoking and AMD. However, researchers believe that alcohol may deplete antioxidant levels in the body and cause oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body, which can damage proteins, lipids, and DNA.

Alcohol may cause oxidative damage that leads to retinal cell death and AMD.

Learn more about oxidative stress here.

Various lifestyle risk factors may affect AMD.

One 2020 study found that people with certain lifestyle factors, including smoking and a lower intake of fruit, vegetables, and fish, experienced almost double the risk of AMD.

Modifiable risk factors are those that people have some control over. For AMD, they include:

  • Smoking cigarettes: Studies have found that long-term smoking may increase a person’s risk of AMD due to oxidative stress, inflammation, and other causes.
  • Obesity: People with obesity may have a higher risk of AMD. This is because a higher body weight may cause more oxidative stress, an imbalance of lipids in the blood, and increased inflammation. Experts associate these three factors with AMD progression.
  • Nutrition: People who eat a diet high in trans and saturated fats, such as meat, cheese, and butter, may be at higher risk of AMD.

Learn more about the causes and risk factors of AMD here.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults should limit alcohol consumption to two drinks per day for men and one for women.

The CDC also notes that the risk of certain illnesses increases with the amount of alcohol a person drinks. For some illnesses, such as cancer, risks increase even with low levels of alcohol consumption.

Research from 2021 links moderate to high alcohol consumption with an increased risk of early AMD. This means that even moderate amounts of alcohol, such as the CDC’s one- to two-drink limit, could increase a person’s risk of AMD.

Learn more about moderate drinking here.

There is no cure for AMD, but people can manage the condition with lifestyle changes. These may include adjusting the lighting in the home to improve visibility, using larger print on screens, and using magnifying devices.

AMD may not cause complete vision loss, but it typically affects central vision. This can make it difficult for people to perform daily tasks, such as driving and reading.

AMD is common in adults aged 50 years and above. The condition usually progresses over time as the delicate tissues beneath the retina deteriorate due to lifelong oxidative stress. The macula is the part of the retina that allows people to perform critical visual tasks using central vision.

As vision worsens, a person may experience complications, such as:

People with AMD may experience a gradual decline in their quality of life. However, rehabilitation and support can help people maximize their remaining vision and make life easier.

Find more information about eye health here.

There may be a link between moderate to high alcohol consumption and AMD. Researchers believe this could be because alcohol causes oxidative damage, which can result in retinal cell death.

Although the CDC recommends limiting alcohol consumption to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men, they also note that even very low alcohol consumption can increase the risk of certain illnesses. Studies have found that even moderate alcohol consumption may increase the risk of AMD.

Other lifestyle factors, such as smoking and poor nutrition, may also contribute to AMD.

More research is necessary to determine the precise relationship between alcohol consumption and AMD.