Nutrition & The Eye

Nutrition for Good Vision

It is difficult to open a newspaper or magazine these days without seeing a headline lamenting the deficiencies of the “American diet”. A good share of the country is eating a lot of fast food and not getting the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Despite the statistics, many patients are committed to taking good care of their bodies and ask what can be done to decrease the risk of certain eye diseases like macular degeneration and cataracts. The fear of going blind, for a person with a family history of eye disease, can be a strong motivator to reassess lifestyle and risk factors. For most of us in pursuit of better health, improving the diet is a good place to start.

Woman eye doctor shaking hands with male senior patient

Do Carrots Help?

We may remember being told as a child to eat more carrots for better eyesight. It is true that vitamin A we get from carrots is important to the health of the eyes, and many other body systems, but is that all there is to it? What research has found is that there are many nutrients, from many types of foods, all playing important roles in eye health. It probably won’t surprise you that the diet that is healthy for your eyes is good for your heart and other organ systems as well.

Macular Degeneration & Nutrition

Macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss in Americans over age 55, is one eye disease that seems to be influenced by diet. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) showed that persons suffering from moderate to advanced macular degeneration could reduce the risk of progressive vision loss by taking a combination of high-dose antioxidant vitamins (A, C and E) and zinc. AREDS 2 added lutein and zeaxanthin to the original AREDS formulation. There is evidence that increased consumption of lutein and zeaxanthin (antioxidants that exist in natural concentrations in the eye) may lower the risk of developing macular degeneration. Eggs and dark green leafy vegetables, like spinach, kale and collard greens, are good primary sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, but they are also present in lesser amounts in other fruits and vegetables, such as broccoli, orange peppers, corn, peas, persimmons and tangerines. A diet that is rich in a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts, eggs and fish (containing omega-3 fatty acids) is generally recommended to reduce the risk of macular degeneration.

Nutrition & Other Eye Conditions

Research indicates that eating more fruits and vegetables may also offer protection against the formation of cataracts, a clouding of the eye’s natural lens which occurs with advancing age. The nutrients that appear to be responsible for this slowdown in cataract development are vitamins C and E as well as lutein. Omega-3 fatty acid intake and adequate protein consumption also seem to be important protective factors.

Omega-3 fatty acids are also a hot topic in the dry eye treatment arena. About 8 million Americans suffer from dry eye symptoms, most of them women. A study that included 37,000 women showed that those with the highest levels of omega 3 fatty acids in their diet had 20% fewer dry eye symptoms than women who consumed the least amount of omega 3 fatty acids. Although research is ongoing, many eye care practitioners are beginning to consider omega-3 fatty acids from fish or flaxseed as adjunctive therapy in the management of dry eye disease.

You may be wondering if you can just take a vitamin supplement and skip the spinach. Unfortunately, you can’t. Dietary supplements aren’t meant to be food substitutes, as they can’t replicate all of the nutrients and benefits of whole foods. However, dietary supplements can play a role in your health by complementing your regular diet if you have trouble eating enough of the right foods. Two pieces of advice on supplements: 1) avoid taking high doses of anything unless prescribed specifically for you and 2) be sure to check with your doctor before initiating any new therapy, especially if you are currently being treated with other medication.

Where Can I Get More Information?

To schedule an appointment call 414-271-2020.

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