NEW YORK (CBS 2)Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in Americans over the age of 60. A new study suggests Vitamin D could protect women from the vision-robbing illness, Dr. Max Gomez reports.

Dorrette Wright, 47, was surprised to learn during a routine eye exam that she has the early stages of macular degeneration.

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“It was pretty scary,” she said. “I thought actually that initially, down the line, sooner  rather than later that my sight will be gone.”

Now research shows a diet rich in Vitamin D could have helped prevent the onset of disease in Wright’s retinas.

A new study in the “Archives of Opthamology” shows women under 75 who have higher levels of the vitamin in their blood were less likely to develop macular degeneration later in life.

“My theory is that Vitamin D has anti-inflammatory properties, and inflammation has played a big part in macular degeneration,” said Dr. Shantan Reddy of the NYU Langone Medical Center.

Macular degeneration affects one in 10 Americans over 40, which amounts to around 8.5 million people.

Doctors said a healthy dose of sunlight is one way to get the vitamin, but at the risk of developing skin cancer.

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In any case, the study finds just sun isn’t enough.

“The way to increase it to the levels that are protective: we need to eat properly, eat Vitamin D-rich foods,” said Dr. Reddy.

Leafy vegetables or fish are also rich in Vitamin D. Wright is a vegetarian and is now doing more to maintain the vitamin in her blood.

Since many of us have trouble eating a healthy diet, a number of other researchers recommend Vitamin D supplements as a way to get enough without risking skin cancer or obesity.

The vitamin also seems to be very important for strengthening the immune system.

Smoking and a family history of macular degeneration can all increase your chances of developing the disease.

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Are you concerned about developing macular degeneration? Have you or someone you love been affected by it? Sound off in our comments section.