Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common cause of irreversible vision loss for people over the age of 60, but it can also affect people in their 40s and 50s. The macula is the central and most sensitive portion of the retina, a nerve-rich area at the back of the eye. As we age, the macula breaks down, causing deterioration of central vision and fine-detail perception.
Some scientists have suggested an association between macular degeneration and diets that are high in saturated fat and low in carotenoid pigments. (Carotenoid pigments create the reds, yellows, and oranges in plants, flowers, fruits, and vegetables.) Free radicals caused by cigarette smoking, sun exposure, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol are also significant factors in AMD.
Cataracts are caused by clouding of the eye lens, which impedes light from entering. The most common cataracts are age-related, but they can occur in people as young as 40. Cataracts might also be the result of birth defects or heredity. Eye injury (including sun damage) can also cause cataracts, even in the very young. Secondary cataracts can form as a result of infections or diseases such as diabetes.
Food for Sight
Studies show that a diet high in serum carotenoids not only protects the retina from the effects of the highly reactive radicals generated by exposure to sunlight, but also helps to form the macular pigment that scavenges free radicals in the macula. Of the carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin are arguably the most important as they are the only macular pigments found throughout the tissues of the eye. You can get lutein and zeaxanthin from leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, parsley, and collard greens.
Supplements for Vision
Antioxidant vitamins may also have positive eye-protecting effects. Vitamin A is essential for the production of one of the photo-pigments responsible for night vision, and vitamin C is known to absorb UV light. Researchers have found that vitamin C may help prevent cataracts by stopping photo-oxidation of the lens. Bioflavonoids, like those found in bilberry, strengthen capillaries and improve the delivery of oxygen and blood that nourish the eye.
Consider using a daily supplement formulated specifically for eye health to help you see into the future.
Rest Those Tired Eyes!
When you’ve been focussing on a task for a while, try this exercise to give your eyes a break. Close your eyes, and slowly roll them up and down, then side to side. It’s good for your eye muscles, which tend to stay in one position when you’ve been staring at a computer screen or doing a hobby like needlework for too long.
By Lisa Petty
First published by Alive magazine