One of the greatest fears related to aging is vision loss. The fear is all too real. According to a study by Lighthouse International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to research on vision impairment and rehabilitation, one in six adults older than 45 has some type of vision impairment. This includes cataracts, glaucoma, or age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) a painless degenerative eye disease that affects more than 10 million Americans and is the leading cause of legal blindness in people over the age of 55. Fortunately, there are many ways to protect your vision naturally at every age.
If you think carrots are the only foods that can improve your eyesight, think again. There are a number of foods that can bolster your vision. In fact, recent studies show that more than a quarter of the nutrients absorbed from food go toward nourishing our sight. For instance, the antioxidants in fruits, vegetables and whole grains especially vitamins C and E, zinc, and selenium help protect the eyes from free radical damage. Lutein found in dark green leafy vegetables, and zeaxanthin in yellow fruits and vegetables guard against macular degeneration and may even reverse some of its effects. You can also find protection under the sea. The omega-3 fatty acids in cold-water fish especially DHA also protects against ARMD by providing structural support to the cell membranes in the eyes. Of course, it’s not just what you do eat, but also what you don’t. If you want sharp vision well into your golden years, avoiding fried foods and partially hydrogenated fats can help improve night vision, the eye’s ability to adapt to bright light, and tear production. Cut down on sweets, too. Sugar has been shown to impair the lens’ ability to keep itself clear.
To guard against retina-damaging sunlight, wear wraparound, UV-blocking sunglasses along with a broad-brimmed hat or visor. It’s also important to avoid cigarette smoke: smoking increases the risk of macular degeneration 2.4-fold in women, depletes antioxidants like vitamin A, and causes about 20 percent of all cataracts, increasing female smokers’ risk by 63 percent. Men who smoke don’t fare much better. Partaking in regular exercise at least 30 minutes each day improves circulation throughout the body, including the eyes with their many small vessels. To get a comprehensive picture of your eye health, be sure to visit your optometrist or ophthalmologist at least every two years, and annually if you’re over 50.
Bilberry: has a rich history. In fact, legend has it that British Royal Air Force pilots flying midnight missions during World War II ate bilberry jam to improve their night vision. Current research shows that bilberry accelerates the regeneration of retinol purple, a substance necessary for reliable eyesight. Bilberry also prevents capillary leakage and decreases ocular pressure. It increases circulation in the eyes, which improves peripheral vision, and protects the blood vessels so they can repair themselves. Typical dosage: 120-240 mg twice daily of an extract standardized to contain 25 percent anthocyanins.
Lutein and zeaxanthin: are two antioxidants that generally occur together in nature and are highly concentrated in the eye. This eye-friendly duo protects against free radicals and inflammation while filtering out potentially damaging ultraviolet light, much like a nutritional version of sunglasses. They also help to keep cell membranes stable, which enables the eye to maintain a healthy structure. Tufts University and the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging have found that supplementing with lutein and zeaxanthin can reduce the risk of developing ARMD by 40 percent. The combination can also help prevent cataracts. Since both nutrients are fat soluble, be sure to take your supplement with food that contains some fat. Typical dosage: At least 6 mg of lutein and 5 mg of zeaxanthin daily.