Nutrition and Eye Health

To see or not to see – that is the question. The data relating to vision problems is staggering. According to the American Optometric Association data from the National Center for Health statistics estimates that 90% of the U.S. population 4 years and older have some form of vision dysfunction. These vision problems range from bags under the eyes to blurred vision, cataracts, color blindness, conjunctivitis, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, loss of vision, dry eyes, floaters, macular degeneration, vascular retinopathy, nearsightedness and far sightedness. The human eye is a highly complex organ. Anatomical estimates put its number of working parts at close to one billion. Its receptors, the rods and cons on the retina, can perceive ten million gradations of light and seven million shades of color. The eye works by taking in light and transforming it into electrical impulses that are sent to the brain, where 90% of vision occurs. This article will deal with the nutritional aspects of preventing and maintaining healthy eyes. We will discuss the dietary factors leading to degeneration as it relates to macular degeneration and cataracts and what nutritional supplements and botanical remedies can be taken to strengthen and support good eye health. Diet and nutrition have been shown to be a major factor in the development of many of these eye problems. The Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) is nutrient poor. Specifically denatured, chemical, preservative laden fast foods that a lot of Americans eat seem to be an issue here. High fat in the diet and high sugar consumption are all contributing factors, as well as the low ingestion of fruits and vegetables. Many of us are deficient in nutrients that would support proper functioning of the organ systems that support good tissue integrity, not only in the eye but the entire body. In order to promote good eyesight you must make sure you get the basic antioxidant vitamins in the form of B complexes, beta carotene, vitamin C and E, and the minerals selenium and zinc. Many of our fresh fruits and vegetables are good sources of vitamins and minerals. Include in your diet yellow and orange colored food such as carrots, yams, squashes, and greens. Science has discovered a class of nutrients called carotenoids, pigments that that have a direct affect on the eye tissue. There are two such compound lutein and zeaxanthin that have an affinity to the retina and macula of the eye. The lutein and zeaxanthin taken form food accumulate at the visual center of the eye-the macula lutea or “yellow spot” located in the center of the retina close to the optic nerve’s exit. In 1980 researchers discovered that animals deprived of these carotenoids developed signs of retinal disease. It wasn’t until 1994 that a report by the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that adults that ate 3-5 servings of spinach weekly, providing 6 mg of carotenoids experienced a 43% reduction of macular degeneration. Macular degeneration affects approximately 4 million Americans, and it is increasing rapidly. Macular degeneration is when the central vision becomes blurred and a person cannot focus on what is directly in front of them. It is thought to be caused by photo oxidation caused by what is called blue light and how the light waves affect the retina. Carotenoids absorb this blue light more efficiently and quench the damaging free radicals that cause the damage. The other role of carotenoids and eye health are the maintenance of the mucin layer of the tear film and is thus helpful in relieving dry eyes. Nutritional supplements have also show to improve vision and to aid in the prevention of many of these eye disorders. It is suggested that vitamin B complex is needed for intracellular eye metabolism. (Take 100 mg daily). Vitamin C, which reduces intraoccular pressure, at a dose of 3-5000 mg daily; vitamin E to promote healing and elasticity (400 iu daily); zinc (50 mg daily); and selenium at 200 mcg daily. The amino acid glutathione, and taurine also helps to protect the lens of the eye, and the daily intake of lutein and zeaxanthin 6-10 mg daily. Grape seed extract, a rich source of proanthocyanidins, have excellent anti-oxidant effects on eye tissue as well. The herbs bilberry and gingko biloba have both been researched for their ability to aid in the structural integrity of the eye. Gingko’s role is about vascular integrity and appears to address the underlying factors of macular degeneration by improving long distance visual acuity and protecting the retina from free radical damage. Bilberry’s uses are far reaching when it comes to eye health. There are many clinical reports that give evidence that the use of bilberry has a positive effect with the following eye conditions: diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, cataract, and glaucoma. Anthocyanosids are the chemical compound in bilberry that gives it the ability to strengthen the connective tissues, to relax muscles, prevent free radical damage and improve blood flow to the eye. It has also shown to improve night blindness. Blueberries are related to bilberry (huckleberry) and contain many of the same compounds. It is important to include these in the diet. These botanicals have a long history of use and should be considered in any condition regarding the eye. They are non-toxic, but you should consult with an authoritative source for dosage information and clinical applications. There are many formulas on the market that combine many of the nutrients discussed. This is usually easier when addressing the preventive aspects. In a specific eye disorder some nutrients would be needed in higher doses. It is one thing to have a serious eye problem due to the numerous factors that we have discussed. It is entirely another to look at the prevention of not only eye disease but the entire body system. It seems to me that if we would eat real foods and work on living a balanced lifestyle maybe we could prevent this degeneration from happening. I would like to end with a quote from Leonardo DaVinci, “Oh thou most excellent eye, elevated above all that God created! What exalted praises are capable of expressing thy nobility? What peoples, what tongues, can describe thy abilities? Through the window of the eye the soul regards the world’s beauty.” Article by herbalist Dave Hawkins, MH, CNC
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