Eye health – what could be more important? It’s easy to take your ability to see for granted until you lose it. Your eyes let you enjoy the beauty of nature, help you make your way through the world, and see the faces of the people you care about. Think about it. Without the gift of eyesight, you couldn’t even read this article. So what can you do to keep your eyes healthy as you grow older?
As you age, you become more susceptible to vision-robbing diseases, two of the most common being cataracts and acute macular degeneration. You’re probably familiar with cataracts, a condition where the lens of the eye becomes thick and cloudy. When you have cataracts, your vision gradually grows dimmer and colors become more faded, although you may have no symptoms in the early stages. Fortunately, you can correct cataracts with surgery although it’s better to prevent them.
More serious is a condition called age-related macular degeneration, the most common cause of serious visual loss in people over the age of 60. Unlike cataracts, age-related macular degeneration isn’t curable, although medications can slow its progression and reduce visual loss. Macular degeneration is caused by deterioration of the central portion of the retina, the part of your eye that senses light and transmits information about what you see to your brain.
Eat for Eye Health
Both cataracts and macular degeneration can greatly impact your vision – but there’s good news. What you eat matters. Research shows the type of nutrients you take in may lower your risk for developing these common visual problems. You’ve probably heard people say eating carrots is good for your eyesight, but carrots aren’t the only foods that help keep your eyes healthy as you age. Carrots are rich in carotenoids, plant-based antioxidants, some of which your body converts to vitamin A.
Two other carotenoids called zeaxanthin and lutein are strongly linked with eye health because they’re deposited into the retina of the eye. In fact, eye specialists measure the amount of zeaxanthin and lutein in the retina as a biomarker for visual health. Diets rich in lutein and zeaxanthin may lower the risk of both cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. These nutrients act as strong antioxidants that help reduce damage to the lens of the eye that can lead to cataracts. Both of these nutrients also filter high-energy light waves that can damage the retina in the back of the eye, a strong contributor to macular degeneration.
So how can you add more zeaxanthin and lutein to your diet? Eat more vegetables, particularly green, leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, collard greens, turnips greens, and Swiss chard – both raw and cooked. Pumpkin, oranges, red peppers, squash, and broccoli are other excellent sources of these vision-preserving nutrients. In general, fruits and vegetables that are orange or green in color contain lutein and zeaxanthin.
There’s another powerful source of lutein and zeaxanthin that might surprise you – eggs. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition showed eating just one egg a day increased blood levels of zeaxanthin and lutein without causing a rise in cholesterol. In fact, a one egg daily routine increased zeaxanthin levels by 38% and lutein by 26%.
Omega-3s and Vitamin E for Eye Health
Lest you think vegetables are the only foods that protect your vision, fatty fish may also offer benefits although not all studies concur. Fatty fish contains omega-3s which some studies suggest may reduce the risk for macular degeneration. One study showed people who ate a serving of fish weekly lowered their risk for macular degeneration by 35%.
The long-chain omega-3s in fatty fish have anti-inflammatory properties, which may explain the possible protective benefits. One study published in PharmaNutrition found patients with macular degeneration who supplemented with omega-3s for more than four months experienced significant improvement in their visual symptoms.
Vitamin E is another nutrient that may protect against cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, according to some research. To add more vitamin E to your diet, snack on nuts and seeds. Almonds, sunflower seeds, and peanuts are all top sources of this antioxidant vitamin. Vegetable oils are too, although this isn’t the healthiest way to meet your vitamin E requirements.
Other Ways to Protect Your Vision For Eye Health
Lifestyle changes matter for the health of your eyes. Most importantly, don’t smoke and consume alcohol only in moderation. Since exposure to ultraviolet light contributes to these eye diseases, wear sunglasses that filter ultraviolet light and a wide-brimmed hat when you go outside. Ultraviolet light from the sun is damaging to the lens of your eye and your retina. Don’t forget to get your eyes checked regularly, especially after the age of 50.
There’s one eye change you can’t avoid. Almost everyone develops a condition called presbyopia after the age of 40. Presbyopia leads to difficulty seeing things close-up, like menus in a restaurant and words in a book. That’s why so many people sport reading glasses after a certain age. Although you can’t, as far as is known, prevent presbyopia, you can lower your risk for more serious eye diseases by leading a healthy lifestyle and making smart dietary choices.
The Bottom Line
Take care of your vision! Your eyes have to last you a lifetime. How you live and what you eat really can make a difference in whether or not you avoid these eye diseases as you age – and the sooner you start the better.
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WebMD. “Age-Related Macular Degeneration”
American Optometric Association. “Lutein & Zeaxanthin”
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PharmaNutrition. Volume 2, Issue 1, January 2014, Pages 8-11
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American Optometric Association. “Vitamin E”
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