Protecting Our Vision
I was recently told by an optometrist that – as I age, I should expect my vision to decline. This concept was nothing new to me – as I heard many times throughout my 40 years as a registered nurse that our health, including eye health, deteriorates as we age. Most of us are also all too familiar with the fact that age related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common cause of blindness among the elderly, followed by cataracts. However, as a holistic practitioner and student of nutrition for 40 years, I also know that the pathology of these and many other conditions can be influenced, if not caused, by free radical damage and in many cases, can be prevented and or greatly helped by a diet rich in antioxidants. We know too that other dietary conditions including obesity and diabetes also have a detrimental effect on eyesight.
Although over 20 years ago, I did succumb to the convenience of wearing glasses and or contacts, after doing research for this article, my understanding and belief in our body’s inherent power to heal (and yes, even as it relates to our vision) has been ignited once again. Aging does not automatically equate to decreased vision. Instead, I believe, as several of my mentors in the natural healing movement do, that failing vision has less to do with genetics and the inevitability of aging and more to do with the fact that it is a common side effect of our modern lifestyles – Artificial lighting, lack of sunlight, environmental toxins, processed foods, constant screen time etc. – are all contributing factors to eyestrain and deteriorating vision.
Given this awareness, it seems wise to make certain lifestyle changes, as well as include specific nutrients in our diet that have been shown to prevent or improve eye related problems. With a commitment to learn and share more about this not often discussed topic, I list below some of these strategies, including: diet and specific supplements, limiting toxic exposure, sleep, relaxation, and a 100 year old method for restoring and improving vision called the Bates Therapy.
Diet, Nutrients, and Specific Antioxidants for Eye Health:
Diet: A well rounded, organic diet that includes a colorful array of vegetables, leafy green (especially kale), specific eye health enhancing foods such as black currants, bilberry, and Omega 3 rich foods such as Alaskan salmon, have been shown to protect against AMD and support eye health.
World renowned health expert Joseph Mercola, MD also points out in a recent article at DrMercola.com that “studies have shown that those with the highest consumption of carotenoid-rich vegetables, especially ones rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, had increased vision health.”
Additional Nutrients for Eye Health:
•DHA is an Omega 3 fatty acid that is concentrated in the retina of the eye. It also provides structure and support to the cell membrane that protects retinal function. Consuming foods rich in Omega-3 such as cold water or Sockeye salmon, krill oil, mercury free fish oil etc. may slow age related macular degeneration.
•Black currants either via their oil or as a whole food have a highest level of the antioxidant anthocyanins and it has anti-inflammatory properties.
•Bilberry may inhibit or reverse macular degeneration.
•Specific Antioxidants for Eye Health: Antioxidants are compounds that block or minimize the damaging effects caused by free radicals in your body, including your eyes. Lutein and Zeaxanthin are particularly beneficial to your eyes and are found in egg yolk, spinach and leafy green vegetables, especially kale. Lutein is fat soluble, so adding a little bit of healthy fat (butter made from grass fed cows, organic olive oil, coconut oil etc.) will maximize its absorption.
•Additionally, the carotenoid Astaxanthin (produced by microalgae) has been shown to be more powerful than either lutein or zeaxanthin. In 2002, a Japanese study examined a variety of visual problems among computer workers and found that giving 5mg of astaxanthin daily for four weeks resulted n 46% reduction in eyestrain and improved eye focusing. Studies have also shown that astaxanthin can also be helpful for supporting visual acuity, reducing incidences of Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), Cataracts, Cystoid macular edema, Inflammatory eye diseases (such as retinitis, iritis, keratitis, and scleritis), Retinal arterial occlusion, eye soreness, dryness, blurred vision, improving depth perception and reducing ocular inflammation (Suzuki 2006) and it can help maintain normal pressure levels (that are already within normal range).
Other Diet and Health Related Tips to Improve Eye Health
Stabilize blood sugar levels – excess sugar can damage blood vessels in the retina.
Avoid aspartame as vision problems are one of the symptoms that can develop as a result of using this artificial sweetener.
Avoid trans fats (found in most processed food – French fries, fried chicken, cookies, crackers etc.), which can contribute to macular degeneration by interfering with Omega 3 fat absorption and utilization.
Elevated blood pressure can cause damage to the retina’s blood vessels. A researcher (Richard Johnson) from the University of Colorado’s division of kidney disease and hypertension showed that consuming 74gms or more per day of fructose (the equivalent of 2.5 sugary drinks) increases your risk of having blood pressure level of 160/100 by 77%.
Environmental Toxins: Smoking (increases free radical production), fluorescent lights, extended time on the computer, chlorine in swimming pools, and airborne allergens all can contribute to eye damage and should be avoided or minimized.
Sleep: A good night’s sleep allows your eyes to rest, repair, and recover and is essential for good eye health.
Relaxation: In addition to the specific antioxidants and lifestyle changes mentioned above, eyesight can also be supported by relaxation and a positive mind set. Research done by Harvard University psychologist, Ellen Langer, showed just how powerful our thoughts are in relation to our vision. Dr. Langer and her colleagues found that when people were primed to believe they had excellent eyesight, their vision improved, and when they were told their eyesight would improve with practice, it did.
According to Dr. Mercola, MD, “Every thought of effort in your mind, of whatever sort, transmits a motor impulse to your eye, and every such impulse causes a deviation from the normal in the shape of your eyeball and lessens your foveal sensitivity. Therefore, if you want to have ideal vision you must minimize stress in your mind. Mental strain of any kind always produces conscious or unconscious eyestrain and if the strain takes the form of an effort to see, an error of refraction is always produced. So while you cannot “make” yourself see, by learning to control your thoughts you can accomplish that end indirectly.”
The Bates Method (developed by American ophthalmologist Dr. William Bates in 1891) is based on the idea that common vision problems are reversible and are not necessarily due to genetics. He believed specific relaxation techniques are better for reversing the habitual eye strain that causes most vision problems than wearing corrective lenses. (See reference list for additional information.) One of the relaxation techniques he taught is referred to as palming. This method is not a medical approach and you will still need to consult an eye specialist for diagnosis, prescriptions, treatments etc.
Palming: It is very relaxing and healing to have your palms cover your eyes, which helps release tension and allows any strain to your eyes to fade. Rub hands together and then open your palms and cup them over your eyes with the lower part of your palm resting gently on the bone underneath your eyes and have your fingertips gently rest on your forehead.
In Summary: The next time we meet, I may have my glasses on or my contacts in because although I’ve been an advocate of natural healing for decades, this information on specific antioxidants, diet, and lifestyle changes as it pertains to preventing, and in some cases reversing, eye problems is new to me too! But I’ll tell you one thing, although none of these suggestions alone or even in combination are quick fixes or guarantees for restoring vision, I am going to get busy applying these strategies and quite possibly may have some positive news to report after next year’s eye exam.
Although restoring or at least improving one’s vision takes a degree of commitment, effort, and resisting accepted societal norms regarding aging, it helps to know that – Although getting older is inevitable, deterioration (including our vision) as we age may be optional!
Bio: Maureen McDonnell has been a holistic, nutritionally-oriented RN for 40 years and is available for both private health consultation and group presentations. She has been the health editor of WNC Woman Magazine for 7 years and is the co-founder of Saving Our Kids, Healing Our Planet (SOKHOP.com). She is president of NutritionistsChoice.com vitamin company, lives in Weaverville, has 9 grandchildren and is an Executive Area Manager with Arbonne, International.
Additional Reading: Free Ebook available at drmercola.com: 20/20 Vision Without Glasses (explains the Bates Method) Reclaiming Your Eyesight Naturally – Greg Marsh