Eric Murray – Eat right to keep your eyes healthy
January 24, 2010
When you talk about “eating right,” you probably think first of your weight and then of protecting your heart. Your eyes probably never come into the equation … but they should.
Everything we eat goes to the eyes-in both a positive and negative sense. The vitamins and minerals that keep the body healthy are normally in much higher concentrations in the eye than elsewhere in the body. And a deficit of these nutrients can have greater consequences.
Because the blood vessels and nerves in the eye are relatively small, fatty deposits and uncontrolled blood sugar can be particularly troublesome. Disrupted blood flow due to atherosclerosis can affect the eyes, sometimes to the point of loss of vision. In diabetic retinopathy, uncontrolled blood sugar damages tiny blood vessels in the retina of the eye, causing problems in the retina.
Nutrition also plays a role in other eye disorders.
• Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a breakdown of cells in the macula or central part of the retina. In the early stage, drusen or tiny yellow or white deposits develop on the retina. In a later, advanced stage, abnormal blood vessels form and begin to leak, threatening vision loss.
• A cataract is a clouding of the normally transparent lens. When the cataract becomes large enough to obscure vision, the lens of the eye must be removed and replaced with an artificial one..
• Glaucoma involves increased pressure inside the eye, sometimes caused by poor drainage of fluids. Too much pressure can damage the optic nerve and cause complete loss of vision.
• Protecting your eyes from these disorders means following some basic rules of good health: avoiding excessive exposure to saturated fats, trans fats, cigarette smoke, sodium and the ultraviolet rays of the sun. In addition, there are ways you can eat that will have a positive effect on your eyes.
EAT LIKE A RABBIT: Lutein and zeaxanthin, two eye protective carotenoids, occur together in spinach, Swiss chard, kale, turnip greens, collard greens and watercress as well as egg yolks, broccoli, corn and persimmons. These antioxidants counter the effect of free radicals, implicated in age-related eye diseases such as AMD and cataract.
Carrots are rich in another eye-protective carotenoid, beta-carotene. For other beta-carotenoid-rich foods, look for the orangish/yellow color: sweet potatoes, canteloupe, apricots, squash.
But there are other important antioxidants. Vitamin C, found in bell peppers, oranges, strawberries, kiwi fruit and brussels sprouts; vitamin E, in wheat germ, almonds, flaxseeds, peanut butter and avocadoes; zinc, in oysters, turkey and chick peas; riboflavin, in dairy products, eggs, mushrooms and almonds; and niacin, in chicken and turkey breast, wild salmon and kidney beans.
One study found cataracts more common in subjects who did not eat much produce. Those who consumed less than one and a half servings of fruits or less than two servings of vegetables a day had a risk 3.5 times greater than those who ate more than that amount. Five servings a day are recommended.
GO FISHING: A study earlier this year found that subjects who regularly ate fish, nuts, olive oil and other foods high in omega-3 fatty acids had a reduced risk of both early and advanced macular degeneration. Those with a high intake of trans fats and saturated fats, by contrast, had an increased prevalence of advanced disease.
HOW ABOUT SUPPLEMENTS? Healthy persons should get all the nutrition they need from whole foods-a variety of fruits and vegetables, fish, chicken, low-fat dairy products and whole grains.
Once age-related eye diseases get a start, supplements may be recommended in order to reverse a long-standing imbalance. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study found one specific formula effective in delaying or slowing the progression from intermediate to advanced stage macular degeneration. Available in an over-the-counter supplement (PreserVision, Viteyes), this formula includes: 500 milligrams of vitamin C, 400 IU of vitamin E, 15 mg of beta-carotene, 80 mg of zinc and 2 mg of copper. Some doctors advise lower levels of zinc.
It’s important to talk to your doctor before taking this or any other supplement. But there is nothing to be lost and much to be gained from taking a pro-active approach toward eating right to keep your eyes healthy.