How to take care of your eyes, naturally…
We are only blessed with one pair of eyes in our lifetime, so it’s vital we look after them.
“It’s never been more important to take care of your eyes,” confirms Bethany Ramos from Naturally Healthy News. “Devastating conditions, like age-related macular degeneration (AMD) that can lead to blindness, are now being diagnosed in younger people because of countless modern lifestyle factors that can damage vision — including staring at a computer all day long, eating unnatural foods, and being exposed to environmental toxins.”
“Eyesight is one of our most important senses and well-deserving of priority protection,” comments nutritionist Rose Holmes, education and training manager at Rio Health. “Eyesight is needed for reading, driving, and assessing our environment.”
“Good vision may be something that we take for granted, only associating poor eye health with old age. However, protecting these vital organs needs to start much earlier, especially as most of us are now spending the equivalent of an entire day a week looking at screens!” said David Crooks, nutrition science and communications manager at Solgar. “The eyes are also extremely vulnerable to the effects of free radicals which can come from our diet or environment and excessive amounts can begin to accelerate degenerative processes which cause damage to the eyes.”
It’s well known that as you age, your eyesight changes. Around age 40, most people begin to experience a condition called presbyopia – causing a change in the eye’s focusing ability, so you may start to have problems seeing clearly as close distances. This will continue to progress over time.
“When you reach your 40s, you’ll probably notice that your vision is changing,” comments Amy Loader from New Nordic. “Perhaps you need glasses to see up close or you have more trouble adjusting to glare or distinguishing some colours. These changes are a normal part of ageing. But as you age, you are at higher risk of developing age-related eye diseases and conditions. These include: age-related macular degeneration, cataract, diabetic eye disease, glaucoma, low vision and dry eye.”
Marta Anhelush, clinical nutrition manager at BioCare, says: “Unfortunately, we’re seeing a widespread decline in eye health in the Western countries. In 2012, the NHS reported on a study published in the British Medical Journal, which stated an expected increase in age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by 32 percent by 2020. This is a huge increase in a short period of time. On top of that, the age at which people are starting to experience vision problems is also reducing so we should certainly prioritise looking after our eyes.”
So what should we look out for when it comes to our eyes? Are there any warning signs we can be aware of?
Ramos answers: “There aren’t always signs of eye disease, and that’s scary. There are no symptoms in the beginning stages of AMD, for example. When symptoms do appear, they may include altered colour perception, distorted lines, and loss of central vision. Retinitis pigmentosa is the most well-known genetic eye disease, with symptoms like decreased night vision, loss of peripheral vision, and loss of central vision. Diabetic retinopathy, the eye disease that occurs most often after a diabetes diagnosis, is a significant threat because it also may not have symptoms. Symptoms may include blurred vision or floaters, if they appear.”
Holmes says any sudden changes in vision should be considered as a warning: “Light sensitivity, blurred, hazy or double vision and/or seeing flashing light, floaters or similar should also be investigated as should recurrent pain in or around the eye, itchy, itching or heavy discharge in the eyes. Any visible changes to the iris of the eye should also be investigated.”
Crooks agrees: “If you start to experience eye strain, pain, headaches, irritation, blurring, difficulty focusing or notice that your eyesight is deteriorating, then you should consult with your optician or relevant healthcare professional for further advice.”
Anhelush stresses the importance of regular eye examinations: “Make sure you have regular eye tests if you have family history of eye diseases or disorders such as macular degeneration. Other risk factors include smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure. The list of early signs of eye problems is long; sudden eye pain, blurred vision, unusual light sensitivity, itching, burning or suddenly seeing different floating shapes or spots, but I would advise to see your doctor about any changes to your vision.”
Nutrition plays a key role in maintaining and supporting healthy eyes.
“Antioxidant nutrients which help to neutralise free radicals are needed to protect not only the macular, the region of the retina where images are focused, but the lens too and we can obtain these from a diet rich in fruit and vegetables,” explains Crooks.
“A balanced diet is essential for staying healthy, a diet rich in fruit and vegetables may help keep your eyes as healthy as they can be,” agrees Loader. “Although being overweight doesn’t directly affect your eye health, some of the health complications you may encounter because of this can cause problems within your eye sight.”
She recommends including blueberries in your diet too: “They contain eye-healthy carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. The antioxidants within blueberries, including vitamin E, have been shown to improve night vision as well as maintain general health. Lutein is an antioxidant that’s been nicknamed ‘the eye vitamin’, researchers have found that 6mg daily can lower the risk for macular degeneration by an average of 43 percent.”
“Carotenoids like lutein protect the macula, lens and cornea of the eye and reduce inflammation and free radical damage which can negatively impact eye tissue,” comments Holmes. “Lutein can also be found in leafy green vegetables, orange vegetables like carrots, citrus fruit and egg yolks.”
Zeaxanthin is another carotenoid also found in the macula. “The concentration of zeaxanthin in the eyes is up to 1,000 times greater than in any other body tissue and its selectively placed in macula’s foveal center which is responsible for sharp central vision,” said Crooks. “Kale, spinach, broccoli, peas and egg yolks are good dietary sources of both zeaxanthin and lutein.”
He also recommends increasing your intake of vitamins A and C, beta carotene, selenium and zinc: “Vitamin A contributes to the maintenance of normal vision and this can be found in animal sourced foods such as oily fish, liver and butter. Beta carotene, which can be found in carrots, sweet potatoes and peppers, can convert into vitamin A but it’s important to be aware that not everyone is able to carry out this conversion effectively. Nutrients such as selenium, vitamin c and zinc all help to protect against oxidative stress and free radical damage so including foods such as oranges, strawberries, oily fish, asparagus and pumpkin and sesame seeds is highly recommended.”
As well as dietary approaches, there are other simple steps we can take to protect our eyes.
Crooks recommends regularly wearing sunglasses to protect the eyes from UV damage: “Making a conscious effort to make sure you have a pair of sunglasses to hand when you are out and about is really important and not just in spring and summer but all year round. This will help to reduce the amount of damage caused by UV light from the sun to your eyes.”
Anhelush stresses the importance of taking a break from screens:”In this day and age, with technology taking over our lives, we don’t ‘exercise’ our eyes enough. It is important to step away from the screens and give your eyes some rest, ideally by being outside in nature and also getting enough sunlight exposure through the eyes.”
If you are regularly working on or looking at screens, Loader recommends the 20-20-20 rule to help reduce eyestrain: “A lot of us spend a large proportion of our lives looking at screens, this can produce a large amount of strain on your eyes. The trouble is, when you’re focusing on one thing we can sometimes forget to blink! Try the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look away about 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds. This can help reduce eyestrain.”
It’s also important to get a good night’s sleep. “Making sure you are getting adequate amounts of sleep each night (seven to eight hours) is vital. Remember that devices such as laptops, phones and tablets emit blue light which can interfere with sleep, so stop looking at screens at least an hour before bedtime and either install an app which turns down the blue light, or use the devices’s built in blue light minimiser,” comments Crooks.
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