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The Secrets to 20/20 Vision

We tend to treat vision loss as a normal part of aging. But it doesn't have to be that way.

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Of all our senses, vision may be the one most associated with independence. Many of us shudder at the thought of vision loss. How would we get around? How would we experience the world? Even though our eyes are so essential to our way of life, we don’t pay them much attention unless something goes wrong, except to get our vision corrected with glasses, contacts, or laser surgery.

Like so many other aspects of health, people consider vision loss a normal part of aging—along with gray hair and wrinkles. We tend to simply assume that the need for eyeglasses or development of eye disease, such as macular degeneration, is an unavoidable part of the aging process.

But is this true? Is there another, more holistic way of looking at eyesight that will foster a more proactive approach? The mistake we as consumers—not to mention most eye doctors and optometrists—make is to look at the eyes in isolation, as if vision loss has nothing to do with overall health. Even though we know that diseases such as diabetes cause deterioration in eyesight, we haven’t fully made the connection to looking at our eyes as part of the whole and incorporating eye health into our self-care regimens.

When we expand our thinking to match this view, we understand why habits such as smoking and conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure have a direct impact on vision loss. For example, a report from the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that the escalating diabetes epidemic may be contributing to the many people under age 40 who suffer severe vision problems. Although more research is needed, the study suggested that keeping blood sugar and other diabetes factors under control may be an important way to support eye health.

Environmental factors also contribute to vision loss over time. UV light in particular initiates damage to cellular health in the eyes (and skin) by causing oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is produced when excess free radicals (highly reactive molecules) are produced in the presence of oxygen, creating a damaging domino effect in their efforts to combine with another molecule for stability. Oxidative stress can damage fragile cell membranes, which are made up primarily of lipids (fats). We identify damaged lipids in the form of rancid oils in our food. This damage compromises the many important functions that cell membranes have in all tissues. DNA and other vital cell structures can also get damaged. Oxidative stress is being increasingly recognized as a major driving force in the development of every chronic, degenerative disease. So here we have another important piece of the puzzle for the relationship between eye health and systemic health.

The Antioxidant Defense Against Vision Loss

Studies have shown that inflammatory foods and other contributors to free radical damage—including excess sugars, simple carbs, trans fats, processed foods, pesticide residues, and environmental chemicals—wreak havoc on our most critical organs and tissues.

A key to counter this damage and simultaneously support eye and systemic health is the incorporation of antioxidants. Antioxidants do just that—counter the effect of oxidative stress via a number of mechanisms. Our bodies already produce their own antioxidants, such as glutathione. So, one arm of our approach is to provide key nutrients that support the body’s internal antioxidant and detoxification systems. Sulfur-containing compounds such as N-acetylcysteine (NAC), alpha-lipoic acid, and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), along with minerals such as zinc, selenium, and magnesium, and nutrients such as folic acid, B12, and other B vitamins, are essential cofactors.

Studies show that increasing the body’s production of glutathione and taking it in supplement form may help avoid vision loss. Foods such as whey protein, broccoli, walnuts, garlic, asparagus, and the herb milk thistle help the body produce more of this important anti-aging nutrient.

The other arm of our program is to provide added antioxidants in the form of foods and supplements. Fortunately, there is a wide array of whole foods, as well as botanical and nutrient supplements from which to choose.

A study that reviewed more than a dozen trials, found that supplement-based antioxidants can slow macular degeneration. These included antioxidant vitamins C and E, as well as zinc. For glaucoma patients, studies have shown that important nutrients include lipoic acid, and essential fatty acids—particularly the omega-3 DHA.

Focus on Carotenoids

The eyes respond particularly well to a family of antioxidants called carotenoids. One in particular, lutein, is even called “the eye vitamin.” Lutein is found in high concentrations in broccoli, kale, spinach, egg yolks, zucchini, grapes, and oranges, to name some common foods, as well as in supplements.

The botanical world is full of antioxidants, used by the plants themselves for their own defenses. Another carotenoid, zeaxanthin, found in vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and kale, along with lutein, seems to protect plants from UV damage, and may perform the same function in the eye. In addition, lutein and zeaxanthin seem to be particularly effective when taken with vitamin E. They have been found to protect the eye from both macular degeneration and cataracts.

Perhaps the best-known carotenoid is beta-carotene, a natural precursor to vitamin A. Like other carotenoids, beta carotene is often found in green leafy vegetables, as well as carrots and other orange-colored vegetables such as pumpkin and sweet potato. Carotenoids are better absorbed when eaten with healthy fats, including those in olive oil and raw nuts.

Lutein, called “the eye vitamin,” is found in high concentrations in broccoli, kale, spinach and egg yolks.

Botanicals

Green tea, astragalus root, and holy basil leaf, as well as medicinal mushrooms, provide antioxidant support with a complex mix of many nutrients and antioxidant compounds.

Vision loss, as we can see, is intricately connected to whole-body health. As with any chronic, age-related health condition, the goals are to reduce oxidative stress and support the body’s detox functions and antioxidant defense systems. Because it can be challenging to keep up with so many single nutrients, I recommend finding a combination formula for eye health, as well as boosting your diet with nutrient-dense foods; using spices, herbs, and mushrooms in your cooking; and increasing your intake of healthy fats and oils, including olive oil, wild salmon, and raw nuts, and seeds. In addition, it is essential to have a balanced lifestyle with plenty of sleep, physical activity, and healthy stress relief. Wear sunglasses when outdoors, use natural lighting whenever possible, and take breaks at work for brief meditation or just resting your eyes.

These measures won’t just help you see better—they’ll help you enjoy better health benefits such as enhanced vitality, energy, immunity, and greater overall wellness and vitality. You’ll see it in your eyes.

Better-vision supplement kit

Focus Vision Supplements
Focus MaculaPro

Life Seasons
Healthy Aging Antioxidant Complex

New Nordic
Blue Berry Strong

Nordic Naturals
Omega Vision

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