Our eyes, often referred to as our “windows to the world,” are the organs that allow us to see and explore the possibilities of the world around us. To achieve this function, our eyes, like the rest of our body, need to be nourished and nurtured to remain healthy. Unfortunately, it is not till we reach midlife or have matured to develop symptoms of decline that many of us become aware of the need to support and protect our eyes.
Like the rest of the body, the deterioration of the eye is a product of genetic risk and the accumulation of free radical damage, referred to as oxidative stress. There are numerous sources of free radical exposure and oxidative stress, including:
- Excess unprotected sunlight exposure
- Chronic inflammation (a central theme in all degenerative disease associated with aging)
- Toxic substances generated by our metabolism as well as through the foods we eat, the air we breathe, the beverages we drink, and the recreational and pharmaceutical medications individuals may choose to take or be prescribed to take
- Ionizing radiation (such as from X-rays)
In addition, a poor diet devoid of phytonutrients and lacking in antioxidant vitamins and minerals (like vitamins A, C, E, zinc, and selenium) increases our risk of eye disease, and so does our intake of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, artificial sweeteners, modified fats, dyes, flavors, preservatives, and refined and processed foods.
Other potential triggers for eye damage are many age-related diseases and the medications and therapies used to treat them. Among these diseases are hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypo- and hyperthyroidism, multiple sclerosis, and cancer.
So what can we do to take control of our health and to protect our eyes from decline? We can acknowledge the role of genetics while avoiding or minimizing exposure to those substances that are obvious insults to our cellular and systemic health. We can also be aware of the symptoms of age-related eye disorders and develop a thoughtful and appropriate action plan.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a deterioration of the eye’s macula, the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye.
The macula’s task is related to central vision and the ability to see fine details clearly. At present, there are several identified causes of macular degeneration, including the formation of deposits referred to as drusen under the retina and the growth of abnormal blood vessels. Dry or atrophic macular degeneration is not associated with drusen or abnormal blood vessels, while wet or exudative macular degeneration is a product of the growth of abnormal blood vessels under the retina. Regardless of the cause, macular degeneration can result in blurry vision and a distortion or permanent loss of vision.
Natural Remedies to Prevent and Treat Age-Related Macular Degeneration The Age-Related Eye Disease (ARED) Study demonstrated a significantly reduced risk of vision loss from moderate and severe macular degeneration through the intake of the antioxidants zinc, beta-carotene, and vitamins C and E. Beyond those antioxidants, the intake of lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidant-rich phytonutrients, helps protect the eyes and reduces the risk of macular degeneration. In addition to antioxidants and phytonutrients, omega-3 fatty acid (DHA) is central to the health of the retina.
Cataracts are essentially a clouding of the eye’s lens, resulting in a range of symptoms including blurred or dimmed vision, sensitivity to light and glare, seeing a “halo” around lights, poor nighttime vision, altered color vision, double vision, and the frequent need to change eyeglasses or contact lenses. Cataracts develop with aging and injury to the eye. They can also be caused by:
- Previous eye surgery or trauma
- Extensive use of steroid drugs
- Excess free radicals in the presence of inadequate antioxidants
- Cigarette smoke
- Exposure to heavy metals such as cadmium, nickel and lead.
Natural Remedies to Prevent and Treat Cataracts
The importance of an organic plant-rich diet cannot be exaggerated. In addition, the strategic and therapeutic use of antioxidants—including but not limited to s-acetyl glutathione, vitamin C, mixed tocopherols and carotenoids, as well as other important antioxidant-rich phytonutrients such as lutein and zeaxanthin –can be helpful.
Feasting your eyes on the bountiful supply of antioxidant-rich, organic, locally grown fruits, vegetables, and herbs is not just a necessary tool to prevent and treat age-related disorders of the eye, but an essential building block of healthy aging.
Our nutrition expert, Peta Cohen, M.S., R.D., has been a clinical nutritionist and metabolic specialist since 1996. Peta specializes in examining the root causes of complex and chronic health issues, and helping clients prevent the diseases caused by lifestyle choices, environmental influences, epigenetics, and aging. With her extensive clinical and research experience, she's been invited to share her knowledge at seminars and conferences worldwide. In Peta's articles for the BoomSpot, the blog of the online store theBoomShop.com, she gives practical tips on how adults 50+ can improve their health right now. Learn more about Peta at PetaCohen.com.