Nutrition & the Eye
Does what you eat really affect your eyes?
Which one of your five senses would you least like to lose? For most people, it is their vision. Our sight is so precious and we are so dependent upon it that we cannot imagine what life would be like if we could no longer see. Even when we eat, we "eat" with our eyes: our first impression of the food comes from its appearance, and a bad first impression is hard to overcome no matter how good the food tastes. Just as our overall health can be impacted by what we put in our mouth so can our eye health and subsequently, our vision. This article, will discuss how your personal health affects your vision and how you can alter your lifestyle and diet to improve your vision.
First, some common eye problems and how they relate to our diets. Increasingly, researchers are finding a link between good nutrition and maintaining healthy eyes. Researchers now believe that age-related eye diseases are caused by the body's exposure to ultraviolet light and other environmental factors such as smoke, pollutants, and various chemicals. We now know that diseases like macular degeneration are caused by cumulative exposure to UV over a lifetime. Cataracts are impacted by UV exposure as well as smoking and poor diet. Many of these eye diseases can be slowed (or in some cases reversed) by the intake of certain vitamins and minerals found in fruits and vegetables or taken in supplement form. Because current studies look at different vitamins or combinations of vitamins, it is not yet possible to say definitively which vitamins should be taken by whom or in what quantities. Nonetheless, it is increasingly apparent that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants may help prevent age-related eye problems. Here are some common eye diseases and the role that nutrition could play in the prevention of these diseases.
Multiple risk factors have been implicated as causes of ARMD. They include age, hereditary factors, inflammation, hormones, environmental factors, and lifestyle factors such as diet, smoking, prolonged exposure to sunlight, etc. ARMD is the leading cause of irreversible visual loss after age 50. Symptoms include loss of central vision, distortion of images, loss of contrast, and diminished depth perception. Numerous studies show that foods rich in carotenoids, particularly green leafy vegetables, reduced the risk of getting this devastating sight-stealing disease.
Dry eye syndrome is the number one ocular disease in most adults in the United States, though most people have no idea that they have this condition. Patients report red irritated eyes or they feel like they have something in the eye all the time. Others report increased light sensitivity, blurred vision or excessive tearing. Many dry eye studies have been conducted and we know that Vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids like fish oil complex can have a significant positive impact on dry eye disease.
Glaucoma refers to a group of diseases characterized by a progressive loss of the nerve tissue that brings electrical signals from the eye to the brain. While many forms are related to increased eye pressure, glaucoma is also affected by blood flow to the nerves in the back of the eye. Thus, dietary supplements that help improve circulation such as omega-3 fatty acids and ginkgo biloba have been shown to be helpful in controlling the progression of the disease.
In the United States, up to 50% of persons over the age of 65 have some form of cataract. Cataracts are the oxidation or damage of certain types of proteins within the human lens. We now know that these changes are due to UV exposure, the inability of the body’s natural restorative systems to correct theses changes, or a combination of both. There have been many studies that have shown that a diet high in antioxidants, especially Vitamins A, C, and E, as well as other elements such as carotenoids (a Vitamin A by-product) have protective and in some cases restorative effects. This is especially true of Vitamin C. One study showed that individuals who do not eat five servings of fruits and vegetables per day are 5 to 13 times more likely to develop cataracts.
Hypertension, Diabetes and Various Vascular Diseases
Diabetes, hypertension, and other vascular disease such as high cholesterol and arteriosclerosis can have detrimental effects on all parts of the body. The eye is no exception. Like many diseases, the time to control these diseases is to prevent or control them in the early phases. Once significant damage is done, there is a limitation to what nutrition, medication, or surgery can do. In short, these vascular diseases can be controlled by a healthy diet and exercise. You have to take control of your life, your body and your health. The keys are simple: decrease excess body fat by decreasing intake of simple carbohydrates and sugars, limit your intake of unsaturated fats caffeinated drinks, and quit smoking. Increase your intake of good lean protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and get your heart rate above couch potato status for 20 minutes a day.
Medical science reminds us every day that good nutrition and good health go hand-in-hand, especially when it comes to the health benefits of eating fresh, raw, fruits and vegetables. Researchers continue to find elements in fruits and vegetables that strengthen our immune systems, impede the development of degenerative diseases like cancer, stroke, and heart disease, and contribute to good health in many ways. Fresh, raw fruits and vegetables are good for you; only lately have studies documented the disease-fighting aspects. Most people simply do not eat nearly enough fresh, raw, fruits and vegetables every day. The fruits and vegetables we do eat tend to be over processed, over cooked, and harvested much too early. As a result, they lack much of the nutrition available in fresh, raw, fruits and vegetables.
Now, you may have noticed that I stayed away from telling you exactly what supplements to take or which foods to eat. Unfortunately, there is no universal answer to those questions. Every person’s body has slightly different needs. Imbalances in certain vitamins and minerals can cause just as many problems as a deficiency. Equally important, how and when you take these foods also has an impact on how effectively your body absorbs and processes these nutrients. For example, substances like fish oil complex or Vitamin E should be taken with a fatty meal to enhance absorption. Please talk to you doctor, a certified nutritionist, your local optometrist at ECC, or educate yourself on this subject.