Keeping Your Eye on Eye Health

eye health

What do you think of when you hear the phrase "eye health?" Munching on carrots? Wearing sunglasses? Concerns about glaucoma? Which supplements help? All of these are good thoughts, and we'd like to take a few moments to review some of the many natural ways you can keep your eye on your eye health and help prevent eye concerns associated with aging.

Supplements for eye health

Vitamin A: You may laugh about the reference to carrots and eye health, but they are a rich source of beta-carotene, a provitamin A carotenoid that helps maintain the eyes' photoreceptors. Without enough vitamin A, you could experience dry eyes, blindness, or other serious eye problems. Although vitamin A deficiency is rare, it's still important to be sure you get an adequate amount daily, which is 900 and 700 micrograms for men and women, respectively. Dark green leafy vegetables, as well as yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, are excellent sources. Multi-vitamins typically contain the RDA of this vitamin.

Lutein and zeaxanthin: Both of these antioxidants are carotenoids that are concentrated in the central part of the retina (called the macula). They protect your eyes against harmful blue light. Research indicates that taking lutein and zeaxanthin may reduce the risk of developing aging macular degeneration. You can often find these antioxidants together in supplement form, but they also are found in spinach, kale, parsley, green peas, pistachios, sweet corn, and red grapes.

Omega-3 fatty acids: Both EPA and DHA omega-3s are important for eye health. The use of these supplements may help with dry eye disease as well as reduce the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.

Vitamin C: Did you know that the concentration of vitamin C is higher in the aqueous humor (the liquid that fills the outermost section of your eye) than in any other bodily fluid? This suggests the vitamin is important for eye health. Research indicates that people who take vitamin C supplements are less likely to develop cataracts.

Zinc: This mineral is found in high levels in your eyes. There's evidence zinc is involved in forming visual pigments in your retina, and may also slow macular degeneration. If you don't eat foods rich in zinc, such as oysters, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, and meat, you may need to take a supplement.

eye health helpers

Read about 20 important nutrients to support your vision

Aging eye health

As we age, it's important to see an ophthalmologist every one to two years to check for overall eye health as well as any developing eye diseases in the early stages. If you have diabetes, a personal or family history of eye disease, or are experiencing blurry vision, eye pain, double vision, eye or eyelid swelling, or fluids leaking from your eyes, you should see your eye doctor immediately.

Common eye conditions associated with aging can include the following:

Cataracts: These are cloudy areas in the lens in the front of the eye, which prevent light from passing through the lens, causing loss of vision. Cataracts typically develop gradually, so they can be identified early if you have regular eye exams.

Glaucoma: This eye condition involves increased pressure inside the eye. If untreated, it can result in permanent blindness. Heredity plays a significant role in the development of glaucoma, as does aging, use of some medications, race, and diabetes. Like cataracts, glaucoma can be detected and treated if detected early.

Age-related macular degeneration: The eye has a macula, a tiny central area of the retina that contains millions of light-sensitive nerve cells. Loss of these cells causes blurry central vision. Although there is no known cure, nutritional supplements can be helpful in the early stages.

Read about natural therapies for macular degeneration

Diabetic retinopathy: This is a complication of diabetes, and it occurs when there's poor blood supply from small blood vessels to the retina. You can significantly reduce your risk of diabetic retinopathy if you keep your blood sugar levels under control and see your eye doctor regularly.

Other diabetic eye conditions: In addition to diabetic retinopathy, some people with diabetes experience swelling of the eye lens, which is a sign of uncontrolled blood sugar. The swelling typically disappears once blood sugar levels are close to normal. Another eye condition among diabetics is weakened blood vessels that bulge and form micro-aneurysms. Leakage of a fatty protein into the center of the retina can then cause swelling and loss of vision that can be permanent.

Temporal arteritis: This condition is marked by inflamed arteries in the forehead and other parts of the body. Temporal arteritis is most often seen in elderly women. Symptoms can include severe headache, chronic fever, hip or shoulder weakness, and a tender scalp. Sudden vision loss may occur and is usually permanent.

Dry eyes. Tear production naturally declines as we age. If you're older than 50, you're at risk for dry eyes. However, postmenopausal women are especially vulnerable. Doctors believe it has something to do with low estrogen levels, although some research suggests low levels of androgens are involved. Eye drops can help.

General tips on preserving eye health

  • Don't smoke.
  • Focus on foods that are rich in antioxidants, such as green leafy greens, berries, citrus, avocados, and figs. Be sure to check out these super foods for eye health.
  • Include cold-water oily fish in your diet at least twice a week, such as tuna, sardines, salmon, and herring. If fish isn't your thing, take omega-3 supplements.
  • Avoid highly processed foods, especially those containing added sugars and/or hydrogenated fats.
  • Maintain healthy blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day four to six days a week.
  • See your ophthalmologist regularly, especially if you have diabetes, heart disease, or a personal or family history of eye conditions.
  • Wear sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB radiation.
  • If you spend a lot of time looking at a computer or handheld devices, consider blue light blocking glasses when working on electronic devices. They help block the light that damages your eyes and lead to macular degeneration.
  • Wear protective eye gear when playing certain sports, working in factories or construction, or doing repairs or working with tools.
  • Take frequent breaks when working on a computer or other electronic devices or other jobs that require lots of strain on your eyes

Bottom line

Taking care of your eye health is an everyday task that involves making wise lifestyle choices and practicing other preventive habits. Can you see your way to better eye health?

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Osborn CO. Menopause and dry eyes: what's the link? Healthline 2017 Nov 27
Sala-Vila A et al. Dietary marine w-3 fatty acids and incident sight-threatening retinopathy in middle-aged and older individuals with type 2 diabetes: prospective investigation from the PREDIMED trial. JAMA Ophthalmology 2016 Oct 1; 134(10): 1142-49
Seddon JM et al. Dietary carotenoids, vitamins A, C, and E, and advanced age-related macular degeneration. Eye disease case-control study group. JAMA 1994 Nov 9; 272(18): 1413-20
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Deborah is a freelance health writer who is passionate about animals and the environment. She has authored, co-authored, and written more than 50 books and thousands of articles on a wide range of topics. Currently, she lives in Tucson, Arizona.