Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth nutrition, fitness and adventure courses, and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+..
Have you ever met anyone who had sharp, clear eyesight well into their older years? Why not you? Gradually losing your vision might not be inevitable.
Eyeglasses, contact lenses, and laser surgery are all tremendous technological advances, but they don’t heal the eyes and vision. In fact, the health of your eyes, like the fitness of any other part of the body, is closely associated with total-body wellness. It’s easy to treat the eyes as separate “parts,” propping them up with helpful devices. But the eyes are connected to the circulatory system, an extension of the nervous system, and are made of membrane tissue linked to the entire body.
Herbalists talk about a liver/skin/eye connection. The eyes, liver, and skin share similar nutritional requirements, and they all are prone to damage from inflammation. The holistic view is that eye disease is caused, at least in part, by oxidative damage, toxic buildup, and decreased circulation to the eyes. Remedies with antioxidant, circulation, or detoxification properties will directly or indirectly benefit the eyes.
Bilberry, a blue-black berry from Europe, is a cousin of the American blueberry. Its extract contains potent antioxidants that prevent free-radical damage to cells and capillaries that can weaken their membranes. The result is stronger, more flexible capillary and cell walls. Bilberry strengthens retinal connective tissue and reduces both the leakiness and fragility of the ocular blood vessels, making it ideal for treating macular degeneration.
Bilberry is especially noted for improving night vision. It also helps to prevent degenerative eye disease and increase function of the color-sensing cones of the eye, improving the brightness of the image being viewed and increasing visual acuity. In one study, researchers examined the eyes of 30 healthy middle-aged people with myopia (nearsightedness), and found that bilberry extract produced significant improvement.
Many people take bilberry extract, standardized to contain 25% anthocyanosides, at doses of 60–120 mg daily, or up to 240–480 mg per day, to manage active eye conditions. Bilberry is just a species of European blueberry, though, so its constituents are very similar to blueberry. The consensus among modern holistic practitioners is that blueberries—and the entire blueberry family, which includes huckleberry and cranberry—work just as well as bilberry. And blueberries are more widely available, and less expensive, than European standardized extracts of bilberry.
Calendula Tea & Leafy Greens
Lutein and zeaxanthin, key nutrients for eye health, are found in calendula tea (made from pot marigold petals). Lutein is also found in dark-green leafy vegetables (think spinach). Blind spots, the ability to see contrast, and acuity may be improved by eating daily portions of dark leafy greens. Numerous studies show that lutein helps prevent glaucoma and optic nerve disease. And a review by the International Life Sciences Institute found that cataract risk was lowered by lutein.
Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, especially those containing carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin, which help protect the retina from oxidative damage and guard against age-related macular degeneration. Examples include collard greens, spinach, and corn. Additionally, take a lutein and zeaxanthin supplement, or enjoy a few cups of calendula tea daily.
Triphala & Mahasudarshan
Triphala, a combination of amla, bibi-taki, and haritaki fruits, is the premier general tonic of Ayurveda. According to Ayurveda, triphala nourishes the eyeballs, and strengthens the nerves and other eye tissues. Take 500 mg to 2 g per day in capsules.
Triphala may also be administered as eye drops, which are commercially available but somewhat difficult to find in the U.S. Fortunately, you can make your own. Start by making triphala water: add 1 Tbs. triphala powder to 10 oz. water. Cover and let sit for 12 hours; filter the water and then apply with an eyedropper or eye cup. (Amla powder only may be substituted for triphala.) A recent scientific paper reported that a combination of triphala eye drops and an oral triphala formula produced marked improvement in “computer vision syndrome.”
Mahasudarshan, which literally means “the great formula for good vision” in Sanskrit, combines triphala and bitter herbs that cool and cleanse the eyes, and is a core Ayurvedic eye remedy. Herbs contained in the formula include chiretta (Swertia chirata), guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia), kutki (Picrorhiza kurroa), black pepper fruit (Piper nigrum), and ginger (Zingiber officinale). Follow product instructions for dosages.
You really can improve and help to prevent poor vision. In addition to being the windows of the soul, the eyes are truly mirrors of the body’s health. Use some of the herbal methods mentioned here—and see what you’ve been missing.