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Keeping our eyes healthy

Close-up of beautiful woman face. On white backgroundAs we age, our eyesight typically changes.  Diseases like glaucoma, other retinal conditions, macular degeneration and simple but annoying dry eyes become more common.  You might notice that your vision is not as clear as it once was or that it takes longer to focus when changing from reading to watching television.  Some of us may notice gray or black threadlike specs in our visual field.  These are known as “floaters”.  They may be indicators of an aging retina.  Floaters are much more common in those who are nearsighted and tend to be very visible where there is a white or light background such as on a bright snowy day.

Within our eyes is a jelly like fluid called the vitreous humor.  As we age this substance tends to shrink and small pieces break off from the attachment to the retina.  As these pieces or “threads” break off from the retina we may even experience flashes.  If you experience flashes or are concerned about your vision consult your ophthalmologist for evaluation.  Flashes can be a sign of a retinal tear or detachment and can lead to permanent damage to your vision.

Glaucoma is another common eye affliction of aging.  Approximately two million people are diagnosed in the United States every year.  It has been the consensus that increased pressure in the eye (intra ocular pressure) is the cause of glaucoma.  However, recent studies show that there may be other accompanying factors as there have been identified patients who have increased pressure and never develop glaucoma.  It appears that there are other coexisting conditions that may contribute to the development of glaucoma and other eye diseases.  These include:

  • Being African American. Studies show that glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in African Americans and often occurs at a younger age

  • Having high blood pressure. According to the British Journal of Ophthalmology, high blood pressure, in addition to increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke can increase of glaucoma.

  • Having diabetes. Increased insulin levels in the body can cause damage to the small vessels throughout the body including within the eye.  This can result in diabetic retinopathy.

  • Smoking can contribute to all eye diseases.  Smokers are three to four times more likely to develop AMD (Age related Macular Degeneration), and more likely to get cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and dry eye syndrome.

  • Myopia (being nearsighted) Myopia is most commonly associated with retinal detachment and the development of “floaters”.

  • Advanced age. (over 65)

  • Failure to protect eyes with UVB blocking eyeglasses. Always protect your eyes from the damaging radiation of the sun.

  • Being of Caucasian decent. Caucasians are primarily at risk for dry macular degeneration.

  • Having a first degree relative with macular degeneration.

These are just some of the risk factors that are not very encouraging but there is hope and there are things you can do to protect your sight beginning at any age.  Some may remember parents or grandparents telling us “Eat your carrots.  They are good for your eyes.”   It turns out they were on the right track.

Carotenoids appear to provide protection for the retina and other vital parts of our eyes.   For example, zeaxanthin protects the retina while lutein provides protective action in the macula.  So do other carotenoids include beta-carotene and lycopene.  Studies have shown that people with eye diseases have lower levels of all of the carotenoids.

So what can we do to maximize our eye health?

Diet of course!

By increasing our intake of certain foods such as spinach, parsley, collards, carrots, and kale we can improve the health of the internal structures of our eyes.  Additionally, cruciferous vegetables, (broccoli, cabbage, arugula, bok choy, Brussel sprouts, water cress, and cauliflower) are high in antioxidants and will not only nourish your eyes but all body structures.

It seems like a lot to add to your diet.  What if you do not care for vegetables?  There are a couple of options.  Put your vegetables (raw) into a blender or cyclonic type of appliance, add water and drink them.  In this way the cells of the vegetables are broken into smaller pieces and much more easily absorbed by your body.  The other option is to take vegetables in capsule form.  (These are sold on the web by such companies as Life Extension.)  It is always better for enhanced absorption to actually eat the raw and fresh forms of these vegetables.

Increase your intake of vitamin C in the buffered form calcium ascorbate.  Adequate levels of C help reduce the pressure within your eyes.

Take a B complex supplement every day.  B-12 is particularly helpful in those with glaucoma.

To help reduce inflammation in your eyes as well as the rest of your body, take magnesium citrate.  It will also help to improve blood flow.

Take 2000 IU of vitamin D per day.  Have your blood tested for vitamin D levels as you may need to take a higher dose.  Vitamin D also helps to reduce inflammation.

Circumin (derived from the Indian spice curry) is a powerful anti-inflammatory and is better absorbed when combined with olive oil.  When quercetin is added there is an enhanced effect.

Ginkgo biloba has been shown to increase blood flow within the eyes.  It works best when combined with bilberry and grape seed.

Finally, switch your soda for green tea.  Green tea contains EGCG to help protect the retina.

Protecting your eyesight is profoundly important.  We depend on our eyes for almost every daily activity.  While most of us eat a typical Western diet, gradual changes can be made.  For instance, we typically eat a lot of potatoes, bread and animal protein.  Gradually changing out some of the carbohydrate laden foods for multi colored vegetables and fruits will greatly enhance your health.  We don’t have to give up our favorite foods.  Reducing quantities while adding more fruits and vegetables, reducing our sugar intake, and refraining from foods that are highly processed, can make a big difference.