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Your eyes are an important part of your health. Eye health is something that often gets neglected—other than getting our eyes checked for loss of vision, most people do not think about it.
But did you know that there are many things that can be done, including eating right, to keep them healthy and to make healthy vision last a lifetime?
What you eat plays an important role in healthy vision, and may help prevent eye conditions such as macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma. These are devastating conditions that cause impaired vision and blindness for millions of people all over the world.
Although these problems could appear with age, the process that leads to them begins many years before. Taking the right nutritional steps may reduce the risk of developing these vision-robbing conditions or help to slow their progression if they’ have already begun.
Taking care of your eyes also may benefit your overall health. People with vision problems are more likely than those with good vision to have diabetes, poor hearing, heart problems, high blood pressure, lower back pain and stroke, as well as have increased risk for falls, injury and depression.
The healthy diet includes fruits, vegetables, and fish. Fruits and vegetables are a great way of getting in the vitamins and antioxidants that the whole body needs, but specifically for their eyes. Studies have shown that nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, zinc, and vitamins C and E may help ward off age-related vision problems such as macular degeneration and cataracts (clouding of the lens).
One of the common foods that are linked to eye health is carrots. Beta-carotene, which is a form of Vitamin A, is found in carrots, mangoes and cabbage, and beta-carotene plays a role in general eye health. Vitamin A forms a pigment, beta-carotene, that is necessary for seeing in dark conditions. The body cannot make beta-carotene, so it relies on getting them from food.
Green leafy vegetables are very high in lutein and zeaxanthin, which are known to be protective to the eye. Lutein is a pigment that gives vegetables an orange colour. This pigment literally gets absorbed into the body and then planted into the eyes. Lutein acts as a bullet-proof vest, taking the brunt of light damage for our vulnerable eyes.
Lutein is also present in egg yolks, corn and peas.
Omega-3 fatty acids are in high concentrations in fish and fish oil. It is present in such fishes as salmon, Mackerel and tuna as well as walnut. It has been shown in many studies to be something that is beneficial for the eye. It is associated with a lower risk of age-related macular degeneration.
The macula lies in the centre of the retina, which is sensitive to light. Sometimes, the cells of the macula become damaged, leading to the loss of ability to appreciate colours or focus on detailed activities like reading. Macular degeneration rarely causes total blindness, but can blur the central vision and sometimes cause sensitivity to light.
It normally affects those over 60 years old, earning the name age related macular degeneration (ARMD), but a genetic form of the condition can also affect children and young people. Doctors do not know exactly why the cells of the macular start to fail. One theory is that ARMD is triggered by free-radicals, harmful chemicals that your body picks up from sunlight, the atmosphere and cigarette smoke.
Dr Tunji Oluleye, a consultant ophthalmologist, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Oyo State stated that so many things could be done by individuals to maintain healthy eyes.
“Usually, what we advise is that when a child is born, he should have an eye examination. This can be followed up by other eye examinations at different milestones such as when the child is about to enter school to check for refractive errors,” he stated.
What is more, he pointed out that pregnant women should not take any medicine not prescribed by their doctor to protect their unborn babies from any adverse drug effects.
“Where a baby is born with any discharge in the eyes, this must be adequately treated to prevent this affecting the eyes of the baby either now or in the future,” he affirmed.
Immunisation against diseases such as measles as well as vitamin A deficiency, he reiterated, is also important because these can damage the eye.
Dr Oluleye, reaffirming the need for yearly eye examination for all individuals, even when there are no eye complaints, stated the importance of balanced diet for health eyes.
“If one is taking rice, beans must be added as well as meat to ensure proper diet. If it is bread, this must be taken along with say eggs or fish, all to ensure that the meal is balanced.”
Do vitamin and mineral supplements have a role in maintaining healthy sight? According to Dr Oluleye, studies carried out on elderly people that had macular degeneration indicated that taking vitamins A, C, and E with minerals such as zinc and copper can protect from rapid loss of vision.
“What this means is that if you do not take these vitamins and minerals, the loss of vision will more rapid than when you take such supplements.”
A recent study by the Florida International University found that eyes containing higher amounts of a nutrient called lutein were up to 80 per cent less likely to be suffering from ARMD. Similarly, the age-related eye disease study determined that taking high levels of antioxidants and zinc reduces the risk of developing advanced AMD by about 25 per cent.
Lutein protects the eye by forming pigments in the macula. The pigments help with vision by filtering out harmful blue light wavelengths that can damage the eye. The more pigments the eye contains, the less likely it is to fall prey to ARMD. Unfortunately, lutein is not generated naturally by the body, hence the need to get enough from other sources. These are mainly green leafy vegetables like spinach, broccoli and kale.
A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating a teaspoon of green leafy vegetables with a small amount of fat raised blood lutein levels by nearly 90 per cent. Meanwhile, eating a well-balanced diet also helps to maintain a healthy weight, which lowers the risk for type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in adults. Many people with diabetes develop diabetic retinopathy, which damages vision. Having diabetes also increases a person’s risk for glaucoma and cataracts.
Nonetheless, experts give the following tips to ensure one’s vision last a lifetime:
• Know your family history. Some eye diseases are hereditary. Talk with your family members about their eye health history, then talk with your eye care professional to learn what you can do to protect your vision.
• Give it a rest. Work at a computer all day long? Give your eyes a break. Every 20 minutes, look about 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds to reduce eyestrain and fatigue.
• Wear sunglasses. Look for ones that block out 99 to 100 per cent of Ultra-violet radiation.
• Quit smoking. Smoking has been linked to an increased risk of cataracts, optic nerve damage, and macular degeneration.
• Use safety eyewear at home, at work, and while playing sports.Share