Packed with nutrients essential for maintaining healthy eyes, certain foods can actually reverse vision defects and slow down the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) that afflicts the lives of about nine million Americans every year. Subtle defects in vision due to many causes like diabetes, eye infections like trachoma, abnormalities related to the surface and shape of the eyes, lack of proper nutrition, etc., can lead to cataracts, retinal detachment, glaucoma, etc., eventually leading to the complete loss of vision if left untreated.
There exists a huge market for eye treatments and medications that claim to correct eye defects, but these drugs pose severe side effects like blurred vision, stinging, eye redness, burning, itching, etc., and only treat the symptoms of the disease, without targeting its causes. Moreover, the long-term use of glasses results in dull-looking eyes and a reduction in the blinking of eyes, which is extremely important for preserving eye sight.
Well, the good news here is that the consumption of a nutritious diet, essential for the maintenance of healthy eyes, serves as a very good natural alternative for tapping into the body’s natural healing abilities and re-invigorating the proper functioning of eyes. Read on to find out the various dietary supplements that are required for providing adequate amounts of nutrition to the eyes for enabling them to function properly.
Nutritional Sources for Healthy Eyes
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
A number of clinical studies have proven the benefits of healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids that include docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid and alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) for stimulating the normal development of infant vision and proper functioning of the eyes. These essential fatty acids aid in promoting the proper drainage of intraocular fluid from the eye. Consequently, they prevent the build-up of toxins in the eyes and reduce the risk of glaucoma, high eye pressure and wet and dry macular degeneration.
A study published by the National Eye Institute in 2009 reported that patients who consumed a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids like two servings of tuna at least once a week, for about a year were 30% less likely to develop eye defects like age related macular degeneration than those who lacked omega-3’s in their diets. Hence, replacement of unhealthy, saturated or trans fatty acids with a daily intake of 1.5 – 3 grams of omega – 3 fatty acids through foods like grilled salmon, tuna, herring, sardines, flax seeds, walnuts, pistachios, almonds, etc. can potentially reduce the risk of eye problems.
The increasing number of blind children in developing countries has been attributed to a great extent, to the deficiency of vitamin A. Being one of the most powerful antioxidants, vitamin A protects the outer surface of the eye or cornea and the mucous membrane from free radical damage and also enhances the strength of the immune system to fight eye infections.
It brings relief from dry and itchy eyes and also reduces the incidence of cataract and macular degeneration. The recommended daily intake of vitamin A is 5000 IU and can be obtained through animal based foods like beef liver, chicken liver, dairy products, etc., in the form of retinol and from plants based foods like carrots, sweet potato, spinach, etc., in the form of carotenoids, which is converted to retinol by the body after its digestion.
Found abundantly in citrus fruits like grapefruits, oranges, lemon, melons, papaya, strawberries, vegetables like broccoli, avocados, sweet red peppers, etc., vitamin C not only provides protection against oxidative stress but also maintains the integrity of the connective tissue surrounding the eye by aiding in the formation of collagen. Studies have shown that a long-term consumption of vitamin C potentially reduces the risk of cataract and loss of vision that occurs due to macular degeneration. The recommended dietary allowance of vitamin C for the protection of eye sight is 90 mg for men and 75 mg for women.
Zinc and Selenium
Zinc is a trace mineral, which promotes the absorption of vitamin A, C and E that serve as the most powerful anti-oxidants in the body and protect the eye lens from undergoing oxidation, which is one of the major causes of cataract. It also aids in the migration of vitamin A from the liver to retina, thus stimulating the production of melanin, which serves as a protective pigment and contributes to a superior night vision.
However, higher dosages of zinc can lead to stomach upset by interfering with the absorption of copper and can weaken the immune system. Hence, it is important to stick to the recommended daily intake of zinc, which is 8 mg of zinc for females and 11mg for males, through its dietary sources like red meat, seafood like oysters, salmon, lobsters, beef, milk, yogurt, eggs, wheat germ, beans, nuts, etc.
Selenium is yet another mineral, which helps in the absorption of vitamin A, an anti-oxidant, which neutralizes free radicals and protects the lenses of the eyes. Selenium incorporates itself into selenoproteins that function as anti-oxidant proteins by boosting the strength of the immune system. Good sources of selenium include oysters, fish, Brazil nuts, walnuts, whole grains, garlic, milk, butter, etc.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin
These vitamins, belonging to the family of beta carotenes, act as powerful anti-oxidants for warding off free radicals from the body that attack the lens, thus enabling the lenses to function properly and collect and focus light on the retina. They protect the cells in the eyes by filtering the harmful UV rays and the high-energy blue wavelength from the sunlight.
Adequate amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin are deposited in the macular region of the retina and are used as biomarkers for predicting the progression of an eye defect like cataract and age-related macular degeneration. They are not synthesized in the body and hence need to be provided by dietary sources like green leafy vegetables including raw or cooked spinach, kale, mustard greens, peas, broccoli and other sources like eggs, oranges, etc.
Age related macular degenerative disease (AMD) has been termed as a ‘nutrition-responsive disorder’ by the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) sponsored by the National Eye Institute, which confirmed that a combination of the aforementioned supplements, when consumed within the recommended dosage could considerably slow down the progression of advanced age-related macular degeneration by about 25% and visual acuity by 19%. Hence, with the availability of a plethora of nutritional foods and supplements available for improving eye defects, you don’t have to let vision problems rob the joy from your life by interfering with your daily activities like reading and driving.