THURSDAY, Oct. 20, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Eating a Mediterranean diet and consuming caffeine may lower your chances of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness, according to a new study.
Previous research has shown that a Mediterranean diet -- high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, healthy fats and fish -- benefits the heart and lowers cancer risk. But there has been little research on whether it helps protect against eye diseases such as AMD, the researchers noted.
Using questionnaires, the researchers assessed the diets of 883 people, aged 55 and older, in Portugal. Of those, 449 had early stage AMD and 434 did not have the eye disease.
Closely following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a 35 percent lower risk of AMD, and eating lots of fruit was especially beneficial.
The researchers also found that people who consumed high levels of caffeine seemed to have a lower risk of AMD. Among those who consumed high levels of caffeine (about 78 milligrams a day, or the equivalent of one shot of espresso) 54 percent did not have AMD and 45 percent had the eye disease.
The researchers said they looked at caffeine consumption because it's an antioxidant known to protect against other health problems, such as Alzheimer's disease.
However, the study did not prove that consuming coffee and following a Mediterranean diet caused the risk of AMD to drop.
The findings were to be presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), in Chicago.
"This research adds to the evidence that a healthy, fruit-rich diet is important to health, including helping to protect against macular degeneration," lead author Dr. Rufino Silva, a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Coimbra, in Portugal, said in an AAO news release.
"We also think this work is a stepping stone towards effective preventive medicine in AMD," Silva added.
Research presented at meetings is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. National Eye Institute has more on age-related macular degeneration.