Are you enjoying your fabulous 40s and 50s but have noticed that your vision isn’t what it used to be? Perhaps you have a harder time seeing up close, or some objects have started to blur? You are not alone!
As we age, we are at a higher risk of developing eye conditions, such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). There is a common misperception that these conditions are a normal part of aging and unavoidable—they come with the “territory” of growing older. According to the National Eye Institute, millions of North Americans are affected by these conditions in their lifetime. But what if there were ways to help prevent, or even reverse, these conditions?
The National Eye Institute recommends that everyone over the age of 50 should visit an eye care professional for a comprehensive dilated eye exam. Many eye diseases have a very slow onset and present with little or no warning signs. A dilated eye exam can detect changes during the early stages, before vision changes or vision loss occur. If you are over 50, a professional dilated eye exam is recommended, even if you are not experiencing any noticeable eye problems.
Common Age-Related Eye Conditions
Cataracts develop when clumps of protein are deposited in the lens of the eye. These protein clumps cloud the lens and can cause discoloration. Vision may become blurred or cloudy, colors may seem subdued or faded, and there can be significant glare.
- Increasing age
- Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
- Certain medical conditions, i.e. diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity
- Excessive unprotected exposure to sunlight
- Prolonged use of corticosteroid medications
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
AMD is associated with destruction of the macula leading to gradual distortion and loss of sharp, central vision. Central vision is needed for reading, driving and other tasks that involve clearly distinguishing objects. AMD has two forms: Wet AMD, which accounts for 10% of all AMD cases, and dry AMD, which is far more common and accounts for the remaining 90% of AMD cases.
Dry AMD vs Wet AMD
- Dry AMD involves the breakdown of the light-sensitive cells in the macula. As this progresses, you may develop a blurred spot in the center of your vision, which will eventually lead to partial vision loss in that area. Dry AMD has 3 stages: early, intermediate and advanced.
- Wet AMD involves the body producing new, abnormal blood vessels under the macula. These new vessels are fragile and can bleed and damage the macula. This is a more severe type of AMD and can lead to more rapid vision loss if there is no intervention by an eye care professional.
- Increasing Age
- Caucasian race
- Family History of AMD
- Unhealthy diet
- Conditions such as cardiovascular disease, elevated cholesterol, and obesity
Fruits, Vegetables and Vision?!
YES! Eating a wealth of fruits and vegetables is an easy way to keep your eyes in great shape. Studies show that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can decrease your chances of developing cataracts and AMD. Fruits and vegetables are a great source of many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Research has shown that the production of free radicals creates oxidative damage to the delicate tissues of the eye and are a significant factor in the progression of cataracts and AMD. Free radicals are a normal byproduct of metabolic processes, as well as one effect of encountering environmental toxins. Antioxidants essentially neutralize free radicals, preventing damage to your body by these “reactive oxygen species” (ROS). Improving your antioxidant status by eating a wide variety of colorful vegetables and fruits can prevent and slow the progression of these conditions, as well as many others.
Many nutrients serve as antioxidants in the body, but there are a few in particular that seem to be more beneficial when it comes to the eye. The following nutrients have antioxidant properties that serve to neutralize free radicals before they can damage the eye:
Lutein and zeaxanthin
- These antioxidants are concentrated in the ocular tissues and have a protective effect on the tissues of the eye.
- Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale and chard, broccoli, squash, corn, kiwi, and grapes are all great sources of these two nutrients.
- These antioxidants are known as “flavonoids” and are found in blue, red, and purple berries, as well as red and purple grapes.
- They have been shown to increase visual acuity and improve blood vessel integrity in the eye.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- These fats, found in nuts (especially walnuts), seeds (especially flax seeds), and fish (especially salmon, mackerel and trout), help lower free radical levels.
- Omega-3s are valuable in preventing AMD, as well a host of other health conditions.
- One of the body’s most powerful anti-oxidants, Vitamin C is highly concentrated in the tissue of the eye.
- Vitamin C is found in red peppers, citrus fruit, strawberries, broccoli, and many other foods.
- Vitamin E is a powerful systemic antioxidant, shown to prevent cataract formation and used in the treatment of AMD.
- It is most beneficial if taken in its natural form (“mixed tocopherols”).
- Cataracts have been shown to occur less frequently in people with high dietary intake of beta-carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A.
- Beta-carotene is found in plants with yellow, orange and red pigments, such as carrots, pumpkin, and sweet potato, as well as spinach, kale, and many other vegetables.
- Zinc is a cofactor for enzymes involved in visual acuity, so it is highly concentrated in the eye.
- The highest levels of dietary zinc are found in oysters, crab and beef; however zinc is present in many foods.
- Always contact a naturopathic doctor before starting zinc supplementation, as taking too much can cause a copper deficiency.
The best way to ensure you get all the important nutrients you need to stay healthy is through eating a variety of fruits and vegetables at every meal. By “eating a rainbow” each time you enjoy food, you’ll be well on your way to preventing, and even reversing, a variety of health problems throughout your entire body. That said, there are certain situations where dietary sources may not be sufficient and supplementation is needed. This should always be done under the supervision of a naturopathic doctor or other health professional with expertise in nutritional supplementation.
Eye-cing on the Cake (Emerging Research)
According to a study at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, in patients with AMD and cataracts, low level laser therapy (LLLT) significantly improved visual acuity in over 95% of participants, with no adverse side effects. This study was published in Photomedicine and Laser Surgery in 2008. Click here to read more.
While additional research on this relatively new therapy is needed, preliminary studies on LLLT are promising for preventing loss of vision in patients with cataracts and AMD.
To lean more about low level laser therapy, please visit our treatments page. If you suffer from an age-related eye condition, or for individualized dietary guidance, schedule an appointment with one of our knowledgeable naturopathic doctors. We provide in-office consultation for locals and telephone or Internet consultations for out-of-state and abroad patients.
Be well, see well!
1. "Eye Health Information." National Eye Institute. NEI, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. <http://www.nei.nih.gov/health/>.
2. Gaby, Alan. Nutritional Medicine. Concord, N.H: Fritz Perlberg, 2011. 905-920. Print.
3. The Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center. Oregon State University, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. <http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/>.
4. Mayo Clinic Diseases and Conditions. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. <http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/DiseasesIndex/DiseasesIndex>.
5. "Vegetables and Fruits: Get Plenty Every Day." The Nutrition Source. Harvard School of Public Health, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. <http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vegetables-full-story/>.