Have you noticed that your eyesight isn’t as sharp as it once was? It’s no secret that aging takes its toll on sight. Over the years the surface of the cornea flattens, admitting less light into the eye. The thickness of the macula—the part of the retina used for reading and seeing fine detail—also becomes thinner. Free radicals generated by sunlight, environmental toxins, nutritional deficiencies, and even normal body functions cause many of these changes.
Fortunately, you can take steps today to help protect your vision tomorrow. You probably already know that beta-carotene is essential for protecting the retina and guarding against night blindness. But before you start mega-dosing on carrots, know this: Beta-carotene isn’t a lone ranger. There are a number of nutrients that play a role in eye health.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are naturally present in the retina, where they act like “sunglasses,” screening out harmful ultraviolet rays. Plus, they provide protection from free-radical damage by acting as antioxidants. Both of these carotenoids also increase the retina’s macular-pigment density. This in turn helps protect it from degeneration and tearing. During the Age-Related Eye Disease Study, researchers found that a daily dose of lutein—about what you would get by eating roughly one-fourth cup of cooked spinach—lowered the odds of macular degeneration by 35 percent. And because lutein filters out UV rays, another study found that cataract risk also dropped by 45 percent in those who consumed lutein five or more times per week.
Bilberry is called the “vision herb” because it improves night vision and can prevent glaucoma, cataracts, and computer-vision fatigue. Its antioxidant compounds also strengthen retinal capillaries and can prevent or treat early-stage macular degeneration. New evidence shows that the anthocyanidins in bilberry protect retinal ganglion cells—a type of neuron in the retina—from damage.
Ginkgo biloba has become an adjunct in the treatment of age-related eye problems because it fights free-radical damage in the retina and improves blood flow in the optic nerve. In one six-month study, people who took a standardized ginkgo extract twice daily significantly improved their long-distance vision.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids are thought to improve vision because docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is naturally concentrated in the retina. In a survey of 3,600 people with varying stages of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), Harvard researchers discovered that those who ate fish more than twice a week had a 50 percent lower risk of sight loss than those who ate none.
Of course, simply popping a supplement won’t give you total protection. To guard against retina-damaging sunlight, choose UV-blocking sunglasses and pair them with a broad-brimmed hat. It’s also wise to avoid exposure to tobacco smoke. Preliminary studies show an increase in sight-robbing diseases in those who spend time in a smoky environment. Finally, minimize eye strain when reading or working on your computer by taking a break every hour or so to give your eyes time to rest.
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