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Vision Care

Looking out for your eyes

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Vision Care

Imagine seeing a blurred reflection or a dark hole where your face should be. That's what having cataracts or age-related macular degeneration (AMD) looks like.

Look in a mirror. Imagine seeing a blurred reflection or a dark hole where your face should be. That’s what having cataracts or age-related macular degeneration (AMD) looks like. Now imagine you can slow down or stop vision loss.

You can. From healthy foods to everyday supplements, what you eat affects your eyes.

AMD can steal your vision

The macula, a small spot on the retina, gives your sight its acuity, colour perception, and functionality in daylight.

Researchers describe AMD as a severe speeding up of the aging of the retina and surrounding tissues. AMD starts with a small loss of central vision; in advanced cases it can lead to blindness.

AMD is the leading cause of severe vision loss among people 55 and older. According to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, 1 million Canadians have some form of AMD—a number expected to double within 25 years as the population ages.

Supplements, healthy eating slow AMD

The Age Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), a major long-term clinical trial sponsored by the US National Eye Institute, is a major source of information on AMD. AREDS researchers developed a formulation containing the antioxidant vitamins C, E, and A plus zinc and copper.

This formulation reduced the risk of progression to advanced AMD by 25 percent, and the risk of moderate vision loss by 19 percent in intermediate or later stages.

Omega-3 fatty acids also play a significant role. Two to three weekly servings of fatty fish, such as tuna, salmon, or mackerel, reduced the risk of both early and late AMD, up to 38 percent in one study.

Tufts University researchers discovered antioxidants interfere with the absorption of omega-3 in early stages of AMD, but not in later stages. That may explain why omega-3 is valuable at all stages of AMD, while the AREDS formulation works in later stages.

AREDS2 is now testing a new formulation with added lutein and zeaxanthin, which absorb eye-damaging blue light waves, and omega-3s. Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, collard greens, and kale are good sources of lutein; fruits such as oranges, corn, nectarines, and persimmons contain zeaxanthin.

Natural herbal products such as bilberry and Ginkgo biloba have traditionally been used to help in the prevention of AMD’s progression. These herbals have undergone some clinical trials, though none have been definitive yet. As with any treatment, check with your health care practitioner.

Eye care solutions

Red, tired, or dry eyes? Don’t reach for commercial eye drops that promise to get the red out. They work by shrinking the blood vessels in the eye, but overuse can make dry eyes worse, while their preservatives act as an irritant.

Check your local health food store for herbal remedies and eyewashes. Look for products containing camomile or eyebright (Euphrasia). Consider adding more omega-3-rich foods to your diet to help relieve dry eye symptoms.

Note: prolonged red, irritated, or painful eyes may indicate a medical condition. Consult your health care practitioner.

More dietary effects on AMD

Tufts researchers also recommend a low-glycemic diet. They theorize high-glycemic foods, such as white bread and sugary drinks, trigger a rapid rise of blood glucose that damages
retinal cells.

But don’t reach for red meat instead. Researchers at the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) found heavy consumption of fresh or processed red meat (10 or more servings per week) increased the risk of developing AMD by almost 50 percent. Eating chicken (3.5 servings per week) reduced the risk by 50 percent.

The data on fats is less clear. A study of the Women’s Health Initiative looked at the effects of amount and types of dietary fat and AMD. While monounsaturated fats seemed to protect against AMD, polyunsaturated fats increased the risk of developing AMD for women under 75, but reduced the risk for older women.

Cataracts cloud your vision

Cataracts are a common eye condition caused by age, disease, or injury. As the eye’s lens becomes increasingly rigid, less transparent, and thicker, the lens clouds and can turn yellowish brown. It no longer focuses light directly on the retina, resulting in dim blurred images, light sensitivity, fading or browning of colours, and poor night vision.

Age-related cataracts may begin during our 40s or 50s, but usually don’t affect vision until the 60s. By age 80, more than 50 percent of North Americans either have cataracts or have had corrective surgery.

Managing cataract risk factors

Along with aging, risk factors include:

  • medical conditions (genetics, diabetes, high blood pressure, eye injuries) 
  • medical treatments (X-rays, cancer radiation, eye surgery, long-term steroid use)
  • lifestyle (excessive alcohol, obesity, smoking, overexposure to sunlight).

While managing risk factors is important, don’t forget proper nutrition and supplements. The Mayo Clinic endorses a healthy diet with a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables, including green leafy ones to ensure plentiful sources of vitamins and nutrients that could prevent damage to the eye’s lens.

Although research varies, a Tufts University study indicated higher levels of vitamins C and E, riboflavin, folate, a-carotene, and lutein/zeaxanthin may lower the risk of cataracts.
Look after your eyes: eat a diet rich in eye-healthy foods and look for eye-supporting supplements at your natural health store to ensure quality, purity, and potency.

Effects of the sun

The sun may feel great, but its ultraviolet light contributes to cataracts, and its blue wavelengths, the short visible wavelengths that give sky its blue colour, may cause cellular damage resulting in AMD. While more research is needed, eye care professionals agree: protecting your eyes from sunlight is vital.

If you have light-coloured eyes, which have less pigment to absorb harmful light, or you’re taking photosensitizing medications (including certain tranquilizers, diuretics, oral contraceptives, and antibiotics as well as antidiabetic and antihypertensive medications), and even artificial sweeteners such as cyclamates, be particularly careful.

Working in brightly lit environments or spending hours at a computer terminal may also damage eyes.

What to do

  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses rated to block ultraviolet B (UVB), even on overcast days.
  • If you have light-coloured eyes, wear blue blocker shades (to block possibly harmful blue wavelengths).
  • Stay in the shade during peak sunlight hours.
  • In winter remember that sunlight bouncing off snow doubles your exposure.
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