More and more, researchers are finding a link between good nutrition and maintaining healthy eyes. Scientists now believe that some age-related eye diseases may be slowed by vitamins and minerals found in fruits and vegetables, or taken in supplement form.
Because current studies are looking at different vitamins or combinations of vitamins, it is not yet possible to say definitively which vitamins should be taken by whom or in what quantities. But what is apparent, is that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants may help prevent, or at least slow the progress of, age-related vision loss caused by conditions such as cataracts and macular degeneration.
Macular degeneration comes in two forms (wet and dry) and occurs when the central part of the retina is damaged due to deterioration of retinal cells (dry form) or to leaking blood vessels in, or under, the retina (wet form).
This degeneration, however, may be slowed by diets high in antioxidants (such as Vitamin C) and carotenoids (such as carrots, kale, and spinach). A number of studies now link macular health with a high lutein content in the macula. Lutein and its related compound zeaxanthin are found in high concentrations in the center of the retina. These compounds contribute to the macular pigment, which helps protect the eye against harsh light. It has been shown that taking 20mgm of lutein daily will bring the amount of pigment to normal levels within 120 days, though taking a higher dosage does not significantly affect the levels in the eye.
The clouding of the lens, typical of cataracts, may be related to exposure to sunlight and the accompanying oxidation process. As with macular degeneration, this process appears to be slowed by a diet rich in antioxidants, especially vitamin C.
The key vitamins for both conditions appear to be vitamin C, folic acid, selenium and zinc. These are found in leafy green vegetables, carrots, citrus fruits and melons.
Spinach, kale and collard greens, which provide lutein and zeaxanthin (carotenoids) seem to be particularly beneficial for the macula.
Caution should be exercised regarding three antioxidants: vitamin A, beta-carotene and vitamin E. Vitamin A in excess of 5000 units has been linked with osteoporosis. Beta-carotene has been associated with lung cancer in smokers. Vitamin E in excess of 400 units has been linked with excessive blood thinning. Patients who are on coumadin or aspirin should be particularly cautious about their vitamin E dosage.
Points to Keep in Mind
* While vitamins can be obtained by taking supplements, it is best to get as many of these nutrients as possible through your diet. A diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fat, trans fats and sugar will help not only your eyes but also your overall health.
* Although increasing your intake of antioxidants will probably not restore vision that is already lost, it may slow the progress of the disease.
* If you are considering either changing your diet to include more foods rich in antioxidants and/or taking vitamin supplements, consult your physician. Some people have other health considerations that could be affected by these dietary changes.
* Smoking is thought to be a significant risk factor in eye health. Studies show that quitting smoking can have significant benefits at any age.
* Nutrition and health are lifelong concerns. Don't wait until you develop an eye problem or other health concern to make changes in your diet.
If you already have vision loss and have been told it cannot be helped by surgery, medicine, or standard glasses, you may want to consider seeing a low vision specialist. These specialists can prescribe optical devices such as magnifiers, telescopes, or adaptive devices that can help you use your remaining sight more effectively and refer you on for other vision rehabilitation services that will help you maintain your independence.