new_health (2005-34)

The Eyes Have It

And they’re subject to damage and disease

by Wendy C. Smith

They say the eyes are the window to the soul. Of course, “they” say a lot of things, but I’m sure we’ve all felt that we can tell the substance of a person by looking in their eyes. I have often wondered how I would do in a sightless world. Being a very visual person, I depend on visual cues to get me through my days. I’ve worn glasses or contacts most of my life and as I’ve gotten older my eyesight has gotten worse. Diminivople age, and problems such as cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration increase with the years.

The fact that eyesight gets worse with age has a lot to do with the eyes losing their muscle strength as the rest of the body does. Fifty-year-old eyes are simply not as robust as 20-year-old eyes. The rate of degeneration varies by person and is weighted by things like family history and exposure to external influences such as UV rays, pollution and eating habits to name a few. For general eye health, wear UV-protective sunglasses and consider eating a diet high in lutein-rich foods, such as spinach (and other dark and leafy greens), mangoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, tomatoes, orange bell peppers, oranges and honeydew melon. Lutein is a plant carotenoid and is, oddly enough, found in its highest concentration in free-range, organic eggs. Also generally speaking, other supplements (such as anti-oxidants) that help prevent or control eye disease are also good for overall eye health.

Cataracts are caused by a clouding of the eye lens that reduces the amount of light entering the retina and results in a loss of vision. Cataract surgery is common and performed over 1.5 million times a year in the United States. A person might be born with slight cataracts that never progress to any degree of impairment, or a person might develop cataracts with age. The main symptom of cataract formation is cloudy vision, like looking through waxed paper. Factors that influence vision and cataract development are eating habits, family history, hypertension, diabetes, pollution, sunlight (blue and UV radiation) and kidney disease. Antioxidants have been shown to retard cataract growth by preventing further free radical danger caused by pollution, sunlight and radiation. Vitamin C, D and B2 are antioxidants that, in particular, help the eyes.

An herb that is very useful is Ginko Biloba, which improves micro-capillary circulation and thus the nutritional distribution system to the eyes. Bilberry is a berry with a high anti-oxidant value that has a history of contributing to eye health. And lutein, associated with eye health in general, looks to be extremely helpful in preventing or slowing age-related eye disease.

Glaucoma is the term that describes a condition that has to do with increased pressure within the eyeball. There are two types of glaucoma, acute or closed-angle glaucoma and primary open-angle glaucoma, and the symptoms are similar. Although some people have no symptoms at all (thus, the glaucoma test that many eye doctors perform at yearly eye exams), general symptoms include loss of side vision, reduction of overall vision, poor night vision, eye pain and frequent need to upgrade or change eyeglass prescriptions.

Nutritional supplements that may help glaucoma include high doses of vitamin C, which is an anti-oxidant strongly associated with cellular health. Omega-3 fatty acids are also suspected to have a role in preventing glaucoma as they are associated with lowering and maintaining blood pressure and could possibly have a similar effect on intraocular pressure. Remember though, glaucoma is a very serious condition that can cause permanent nerve damage in the eye. Vitamins and supplements can be helpful, but treatment should be under the care of a physician.

Age-related macular degeneration is another serious eye disease linked to getting older. The macula is the central and most important area of the retina, and macular degeneration refers a condition in which the macula deteriorates. Macular degeneration is characterized by a reduced ability to see detail in reading, driving or recognizing facial features. Because the disease can involve blocked blood vessels, macular degeneration can cause nerve damage.

Studies have shown that reducing free radicals can help reduce the degree of macular degeneration. Free-radical damage can be greatly reduced by anti-oxidants—C, A and E in particular in this case. In addition, lutein and other carotenoids may play a role in helping slow the degrading of the macula.

Our eyes are vital. I kind of think of them as our only exposed internal organ, and as such, eyes need good care and nourishment. Because they are open to the world, they are unusually susceptible to external influences such as sunlight and pollution. Because they are so vascular, they are susceptible to internal influences such as poor nutrition, so see a doctor if any type of eye problem is suspected. Now put on your shades and go eat some carrots.

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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