Better Eye Health through Proper Nutrition
In the United States, many people become permanently disabled because of an eye disease. According to statistics, there are 20 million Americans who are 40 years old and above affected by cataract and there are 10 million Americans who are 60 years old and above affected by age-related macular degeneration or AMD.
Most eye diseases occur with aging. Thus, researchers are looking at the role of proper nutrition in possibly preventing AMD, cataract and other eye diseases.
When the proteins in the lens of the eye are damaged, a person develops cataract. Cataract is an eye disease characterized by blurry vision because the lens becomes opaque or cloudy as a result of the damaged proteins. A person with cataract may also experience double vision or poor night vision. Cataract treatment requires surgery where the damaged lens is replaced with an artificial lens.
With AMD, it is the cells in the macula that are damaged. The macula, which is found in the center of the retina at the back of the eye, keeps your central vision sharp for reading and doing other tasks. When this part of the eye is damaged, you would have poor vision and will not be able to see the fine details of things. AMD has no cure, but the prevention of worsening is possible with proper nutrition.
Proper Diet for Eye Health
The nutrients that can help keep the eyes healthy include vitamins B6, B9 or folic acid or folate, B12, C and E; beta-carotene, carotenoids, lutein, zeaxanthins, omega-3 fatty acids and zinc.
To help reduce the risk for AMD, you need antioxidants, such as lutein, which prevent waste build-up in the retina. You also need folate and vitamin B6 to reduce the blood chemical homocysteine. Taking antioxidants may also help prevent cataracts by stopping protein cross-linking in the lens.
If you want to eat foods with eye-healthy nutrients, check out the food list below:
- Fruits and veggies have vitamins C and E
- Get lutein and vitamin E from kale, spinach and other dark green vegetables
- Orange and yellow fruits and veggies are rich in beta-carotene and zeaxanthin
- Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids are herring, anchovies, salmon, mackerel, tuna and trout
- Foods with zinc include eggs, milk, beef, lamb, pork, peanuts and whole grains
- Foods that have vitamin B6 are chicken, pork, liver, fish, bananas, dried beans and potatoes
- Get folic acid from fortified cereals, green leafy vegetables, dried beans, mushroom, nuts, peas, citrus fruits and liver
- Eggs, dairy products, shellfish, meat and poultry provides vitamin B12
High glycemic index foods can increase a person’s risk for AMD. Examples of these foods are white bread, white rice and pasta, which are high in refined carbohydrates, so they easily break down into sugar or blood glucose. Instead of these foods, choose whole-grain breads and pasta and brown rice.
Eye Health Supplements
In the Age-Related Eye Disease Study, also called AREDS, conducted by the National Eye Institute in 2001, it was found that a supplement composed of high doses of beta-carotene, vitamin E, copper and zinc may help prevent the progression of intermediate AMD to the advanced stage. As for individuals who have no AMD or are at the early stage, there is no evidence that such a supplement is helpful. In the second part of the AREDS, researchers are looking at the possible benefit of adding zeaxanthin, lutein and omega-3 fatty acids to the original supplement.
If anyone with intermediate AMD would like to use the AREDS supplement formula, he or she must consult the doctor first to determine if it is the right medication. Self-medicating with supplements that offer more nutrients than the recommended daily intake may cause undesirable effects.
The long-term intake of the AREDS supplement should be studied first as well. Since it contains a very high dosage of beta-carotene, it may not be suitable for people who smoke as it can increase their risk for lung cancer. It would be better for most people to eat more green leafy vegetables, fortified cereals and fish to get the necessary nutrients for eye health.
There’s still a lot more to discover about the effects of proper nutrition on eye health. But it is great to know for now that we can better take care of our eyes through a healthy diet.
Photo credits: Cataract by National Eye Institute via Flickr, CC by 2.0