Scientists don’t yet fully understand the connection, but research suggests that having high cholesterol does seem to raise your risk of AMD and other eye conditions.

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness and visual impairment in older adults. In fact, nearly 9% of people over age 45 have age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

AMD affects the portion of the retina responsible for the central field of vision. In other words, your peripheral vision may be unaffected, but the spot directly in front of you may be blurry, distorted, or dark.

One possible cause of AMD is high cholesterol. Research suggests that cholesterol deposits in the eye may impair vision. Other cholesterol-related issues, including diabetes and high blood pressure, may also affect your vision.

In this article, we talk more about the connection between high cholesterol and macular degeneration. Plus, we explain how treatments for high cholesterol might reduce the risk of AMD.

It’s unclear if high cholesterol ultimately causes AMD. However, research suggests that having high cholesterol, especially as a younger adult, may play a role in the development of AMD.

Research from 2010 found a connection between some genes involved in cholesterol development and AMD. Now, as researchers work to understand this connection, they’ve found that elevated cholesterol may be connected to the development of AMD.

A 2021 study found that people with high cholesterol in early middle age were more likely to have AMD than people who did not.

What’s more, a 2022 study found that people taking medications to lower their cholesterol levels or to treat diabetes had a lower prevalence of AMD.

However, it’s unclear if taking these same medications to prevent AMD would yield the same outcomes. The study participants already had these conditions, and the medications were used to treat them, not as a way to prevent or treat AMD.

Risk factors for high cholesterol are also common risk factors for AMD. These include:

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that circulates in the blood and is present in cells in the body. Cholesterol is necessary, but too much cholesterol can be a bad thing.

High levels of cholesterol can increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart disease. Cholesterol can form deposits inside the blood vessels, and these can grow and eventually block blood flow.

But the blood vessels aren’t the only place where excess cholesterol might be deposited.

One hallmark of AMD is the presence of cholesterol in the eyes. These deposits are called drusen, and they are made up of cholesterol, proteins, and other lipids. In people with AMD, drusen can develop into tiny clumps that accumulate beneath the retina.

Drusen do not cause AMD — they are a byproduct of AMD. Drusen rarely cause symptoms. In fact, they are often found during an eye exam.

An ophthalmologist can dilate the pupils so they can fully examine the retina. If they see drusen, the doctor may recommend further tests to check for early signs of AMD.

If they determine that you have AMD, they will explain the condition and share strategies to help you preserve your vision.

According to research from 2022, type 2 diabetes and cholesterol medications may reduce the risk of AMD. However, it’s not clear if taking either of those medications will stop or slow AMD progression if you use them after the vision changes have started.

While there is currently no treatment for AMD, lifestyle changes can typically address the condition.

Lifestyle changes, such as stopping smoking and eating a balanced diet, might reduce the progression of AMD. They may also reduce cholesterol levels in general, which could have a positive impact on your vision.

Further, certain vitamins and minerals may help slow the progression of the disease. Your doctor or ophthalmologist can determine if you’re a good candidate for this treatment.

Lesser known effects of high cholesterol

It’s well known that high cholesterol can cause conditions like high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease. But some other conditions are lesser known. These include:

  • Xanthelasma: These are soft, flat, or somewhat raised yellowish fatty deposits that develop around the eyes or near the nose. They may be a sign that you have elevated lipid levels.
  • Mottled skin: Livedo reticularis, or mottled skin, is skin that appears red and splotchy. It may also look marbled or webbed. Vascular diseases, including atherosclerosis (the buildup of fatty deposits in the blood vessels), can cause this appearance.
  • Arcus senilis: Grayish or white deposits on the outer edge of the cornea may be an indication that cholesterol levels are high. The ring-shaped deposits are caused by lipid deposits, and cholesterol is a type of lipid.
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Research suggests there is likely a connection between high cholesterol levels and macular degeneration. However, the precise connection remains unclear.

Studies show that adults with high cholesterol in their early to middle age are more likely to develop AMD. Additional studies are needed to understand if taking treatments to lower cholesterol before vision changes of started will ultimately reduce the risk of AMD.

AMD is most common in adults over age 55. But other risk factors, including high cholesterol, may affect your risk of developing this eye condition.

That’s why eye doctors recommend that all adults, but especially those over age 60 have regular annual eye exams. During these exams, a doctor can detect vision changes. They may also find issues like drusen deposits early and can help identify lifestyle changes to prevent vision loss.