Eyes can often be overlooked when it comes to looking after health however they can be a strong indicator of other diseases developing within the body. They are a paramount part of our lives and with eye examinations being a possible predictor of imbalanced cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, cognitive decline and diabetes it is easy to see how the health of eyes strongly links to our wellbeing.
Research has shown that antioxidants and other specific nutrients may reduce your risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Specific antioxidants have been shown to have benefits too; such as vitamin A protecting against blindness and vitamin C maybe preventive for glaucoma as well as alleviating the symptoms.
Fatty acids omega-3 and 7 additionally have their benefits and help the eye in several ways, from reducing symptoms of dry eye syndrome to protecting against macular damage.
Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness worldwide. As many as 500,000 are estimated to be effected each year. Without Vitamin A supplementation, within a year of blindness many die due to compromised immune systems.
Importance of Carotene
Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin which in its active form as retinol, is found in animal products and the inactive form beta-carotene, in plant based foods. It is an anti-oxidant that protects us against free-radical damage, has a major role in the development and specialization of most cells in the body and helps keep the immune system healthy.
In regards to the eyes Vitamin A helps nourish them and keep them lubricated. In addition carotenoids make up part of the macular pigment specifically the rhodopsin molecule, it is activated when light shines on the retina, sending a signal to the brain that results in vision.
Out of the 600 carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin are the components of the macula pigment in the human eye and when consumed through diet or taken in supplements help build and strengthen macular pigment optical density, helping to prevent macular degeneration.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin also help protect against damage from sunlight, computers and digital devices otherwise known as blue light. This blue light reaches the macula of the eye and produces free radical and potential damage to both the retina and macula tissue.
Symptoms of blue light damage and/or eye strain:
- Blurred vision
- Occasional Double Vision
- Fatigue and/or pain around the eyes
- Heaviness in the eye
As lutein and zeaxanthin make up parts of the eye and act as a filter by absorbing the blue light, increasing dietary intake could be a great way to prevent eye damage, especially at a time when technology is advancing and we are spending greater amounts of time in front of blue light devices.
Foods High in Lutein and zeaxanthin
· Dark leafy greens e.g. kale
· Herbs e.g. basil and parsley
· Egg Yolk
· Orange and Yellow Peppers
Another carotenoid that has shown benefits for eye health is astaxanthin. It is a potent free-radical scavenger and unlike many other antioxidants it is able to pass through the blood-retinal barrier therefore protecting the eye from damage. Astaxanthin is found in salmon, krill and shellfish that eat a specific microalgae.
Further Strengthen Your Eyes
Another antioxidant that has been backed by clinical research for reducing eye fatigue and strain is a flavonoid; anthocyanin. It has long been used for improving night vision. Research has shown anthocyanins benefits for the eye improves rhodopsin regeneration and protects against inflammation. The most common eye supplement used for this is the Bilberry but blackcurrants and blueberries also carry large amounts of the flavonoid.
Protect from Dry Eye
Dry Eye Syndrome is a condition where the ocular is inflamed and the eye does not produce enough tears. The symptoms are:
- Burning and red eyes.
- Sore, gritty feeling that worsens through the day.
- Blurry vision improved by blinking.
One way to prevent or reduce occurrence of dry eye syndrome is through omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. They make up a molecule called specialized pro-resolving mediators or SPM’s that are present in human tears. These molecules reduce inflammation and have been shown in studies to significantly reduce the symptoms of dry eye syndrome.
Supplementing with EPA and DHA over 750mg can:
- Improve overall retina health
- Decrease ocular inflammation
- Reduce tear evaporation rate while increasing tear secretion
- Support recovery post-cataract surgery
- Decline episodes of burning, blurry and sensitivity eyes
- Improve tear production rate and volume
Omega-7 or palmitoleic acid is another fatty acid that have studies showing benefits for dry eye syndrome, reducing the redness and burning while increasing tear film osmolarity. High amounts are in sea-buckthorn berries while small quantities of the fatty acid can be found in fish, macadamia nuts, butter and olive oil.
Nutrients Providing Additional Support
Zinc– high concentrations found in the retina and choroid. May have benefits by reducing retinal damage and has been successful at preventing age-related macular degeneration progressing.
Vitamin B2– Riboflavin helps to maintain good glutathione levels. Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant and can help to reduce light-induced oxidative stress, a leading cause of age-related cataracts.
Vitamin E- An antioxidant that protects cell membranes from oxidative stress due to things like cigarette smoke and environmental pollutants. Studies have shown vitamin E to drastically reduce the occurrence of Age Related Eye Disease when taken at 400IU’s per day.
Vitamin C- Eyes are a complex network of connective tissues, blood vessels and nerve cells; as vitamin C is co-factor for collagen synthesis; a fibrous protein part of connective tissue production it supports them to remain in good health. Vitamin C is also found in the fluid that bathes the eye helping mop up free-radicals.