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Eye Health or Protecting a Valuable Asset  RSS feed

 
Anne Miller
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Sight is one of our most cherished senses. We read, appreciate art, observe nature and connect with loved ones by gazing into these “windows of the soul.” We spend good money on cosmetics to enhance the eyes’ natural beauty, and it just makes sense to promote our eyes’ health as well.

Easy steps include wearing sunglasses and hats outdoors, eating well, maintaining a healthy weight, managing stress and avoiding cigarette smoke. Some medicinal plants also might be worth incorporating into the routine.

Herbs for Eye Health

Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) has long been a folk remedy for the eyes. Most natural food stores contain teas, tinctures and homeopathic eyedrops made from this herb. A South African study found that eyebright eyedrops hastened recovery from conjunctivitis (redness and discharge caused by irritation of the outside lining of the eye). Extracts lower blood sugar in diabetic rats. Whether the same effect holds for humans isn’t yet known.

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) improves blood flow to the retina (the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye). Preliminary research suggests extracts improve vision in people with glaucoma. It is also antioxidant and protects nerve cells, including those in the eye.

Coleus (Coleus forskohlii) contains forskolin. Forskolin eyedrops have been shown to reduce the production of fluid within the eye, thereby reducing pressure. Therefore, it may have relevance in the treatment of glaucoma.

Green tea (Camellia sinensis) contains antioxidants, which mop up free radicals—substances that create the so-called oxidative damage underlying many chronic diseases, including glaucoma, macular degeneration and cataracts. Furthermore, lab studies show that treating retinal cells with green tea’s polyphenols protects them from damage from ultraviolet light. (Such damage raises the risk for macular degeneration. UV light also contributes to cataracts.)

Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) contains potent antioxidant flavonoids called anthocyanins. Its American botanical cousins blueberry and cranberry also contain such chemicals. During World War II, Royal Air Force pilots reported that eating bilberry jam improved their night vision. While initial studies supported such claims, more recent trials have not shown that bilberry benefits include a significant improvement in night vision. Most studies have used healthy volunteers with normal or above-average eyesight. Whether or not bilberry extracts might benefit elders with deteriorating night vision remains to be seen. One recent study did find that anthocyanins from another berry—black currant (Ribes nigrum)—hastened adaptation to the dark and also reduced eye fatigue.

Preliminary studies in humans from the 1980s suggested promise for managing cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. Studies in laboratory rats show extracts may defend against cataracts and glaucoma. In other studies, extracts protect nerve cells in the retina, strengthen blood vessels, improve circulation, and block the formation of new blood vessels, a process involved in diseases of the retina such as diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration. Leaf and berry extracts also have an antidiabetic effect—a relevant action, given the high risk of eye diseases among diabetics.

Many herbs, fruits and vegetables have antioxidant power. Garlic (Allium sativum) is one. Preliminary lab research suggests it may help prevent cataracts. Turmeric (Curcuma longa) contains the potent antioxidant curcumin, which has been shown to protect against cataract formation in rats, both alone and in combination with vitamin E.

Get the Right Supplements

A vitamin and mineral formula called AREDS may slow down dry macular degeneration as it moves to the more serious wet stage. It's a research-tested blend of nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, and beta-carotene. The updated AREDS2 formula added lutein, zeaxanthin, and omega-3 fatty acids and removed beta-carotene, which might be safer for smokers. Beta-carotene is linked to a higher risk of lung cancer in people who smoke.

Get Moving

Exercise has surprising benefits for your vision. It strengthens your heart muscle so it can pump more oxygen-rich blood to your eyes. Staying fit also helps control your weight and prevent obesity, which puts you at risk for macular degeneration.

Food for Eye Health

Bell Peppers
Bell peppers give you the most vitamin C per calorie. That's good for the blood vessels in your eyes, and science suggests it could lower your risk of getting cataracts. It's found in many vegetables and fruits, including bok choy, cauliflower, papayas, and strawberries. Heat will break down vitamin C, so go raw when you can. Brightly colored peppers also pack eye-friendly vitamins A and E.

Sunflower Seeds and Nuts
An ounce of these seeds or almonds has half the amount of vitamin E the USDA recommends for adults each day. A large study found that vitamin E, together with other nutrients, can help slow age-related macular degeneration (AMD) from getting worse. It may also help prevent cataracts. Hazelnuts, peanuts (technically legumes), and peanut butter are also good sources of vitamin E.

Dark, Leafy Greens
Kale, spinach, and collard greens, for example, are rich in both vitamins C and E. They also have the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. These plant-based forms of vitamin A lower your risk of long-term eye diseases, including AMD and cataracts. Most people who eat Western diets don't get enough of them.

They're high in antioxidants and other nutrients that support eye health, like lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin E, and beta-carotene. Kale, broccoli, spinach, and Brussels sprouts are loaded with them. Sauté these veggies in olive oil for an extra nutrition boost.

Eat More Fish
It's high in omega-3s, healthy fats that boost your eye and heart health. Try salmon, trout, sardines, tuna, and mackerel. Aim for two servings of fish each week, or ask your doctor if fish oil supplements are a good idea for you.

Salmon
Your retinas need two types of omega-3 fatty acids to work right: DHA and EPA. You can find both in fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and trout, as well as other seafood. Omega-3s also seem to protect your eyes from AMD and glaucoma. Low levels of these fatty acids have been linked to dry eyes.

Sweet Potatoes
Orange-colored fruits and vegetables -- like sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe, mangos, and apricots -- are high in beta-carotene, a form of vitamin A that helps with night vision, your eyes' ability to adjust to darkness. One sweet potato also has more than half the vitamin C you need in a day and a little vitamin E.

Lean Meat and Poultry
Zinc brings vitamin A from your liver to your retina, where it's used to make the protective pigment melanin. Oysters have more zinc per serving than any other food, but you don't have to be a shellfish lover to get enough: Beef, pork, and chicken (both dark and breast meat) are all good sources.

Beans and Legumes
Prefer a vegetarian, low-fat, high-fiber option to help keep your vision sharp at night and slow AMD? Chickpeas are also high in zinc, as are black-eyed peas, kidney beans, and lentils. A can of baked beans will do the job, too.

Eggs
It's a great package deal: The zinc in an egg will help your body use the lutein and zeaxanthin from its yolk. The yellow-orange color of these compounds blocks harmful blue light from damaging your retina. They help boost the amount of protective pigment in the macula, the part of your eye that controls central vision.

Your body can't make lutein and zeaxanthin, but you can get them from squash all year long. Summer squash also has vitamin C and zinc. The winter kind will give you vitamins A and C as well as omega-3 fatty acids, too.

These related veggies come with another winning combination of nutrients: vitamin A (as lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene), vitamin C, and vitamin E. They're all antioxidants that protect the cells in your eyes from free radicals, a type of unstable molecule that breaks down healthy tissue. Your retinas are especially vulnerable.

Squash
Your body can't make lutein and zeaxanthin, but you can get them from squash all year long. Summer squash also has vitamin C and zinc. The winter kind will give you vitamins A and C as well as omega-3 fatty acids, too.

Broccoli and Brussels Sprouts
These related veggies come with another winning combination of nutrients: vitamin A (as lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene), vitamin C, and vitamin E. They're all antioxidants that protect the cells in your eyes from free radicals, a type of unstable molecule that breaks down healthy tissue. Your retinas are especially vulnerable.

Keep Your Blood Pressure Low

Your eyes rely on a steady stream of oxygen carried by blood vessels that run through them. High blood pressure can damage the vessels and your heart's pumping ability. You can keep it under control with diet, exercise, and medicine if needed.

Get Cholesterol Under Control

A fatty substance called LDL, the "bad" cholesterol, not only raises your chance of having heart disease, it's also a problem for your vision. In macular degeneration, cholesterol can build up in your eyes and form deposits called drusen that affect how well you see. To lower your LDL, limit saturated fat in your diet, exercise for 30 minutes a day, and take statin drugs if you need them.

For Eye Health, Control Blood Sugar

Elevated levels of glucose (sugar) damage proteins, generate free radicals and accelerate aging. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in the United States. People with this disease carry an increased risk of cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. Even in people without diabetes, high-glycemic diets (those rich in simple carbohydrates, which rapidly increase blood glucose) have been linked to a heightened risk of macular degeneration and cataracts.

Can anyone offer other suggestions?  Or herbs that feel are beneficial for eye health?
 
David Lynch
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I have heard that chamomile is a good general eye tonic.
 
Travis Johnson
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I can tell you what not to do: first always wear safety glasses because my eyes are riddled with scars from the drilling of steel fragment out of my eyes. I was a welder and we had to use die grinders to shape our welds and remove slag and foreign material to pass x-ray. In the building of ships this meant being in cramped spaces with pneumatic tools. These die grinders cut the steel by ripping it minutely, so it has jagged edges that get caught in your eyes. As soon as you would pull the trigger you were covered in dust and thus got LOTS of eye injuries.

Also protect your eyes from weld flash. Even a pair of regular safety glasses will deter the ultra violet light, but obviously need a dark shield over them. Use the right lens: stick welding is about shade 10, but wire feed can be 11 or 12 based on whether or not the weld is flux core or pulse. For those that have never experienced weld flash...don't! It feels like someone took sand,put it on a frying pan then tossed it in your eyes. You cannot get the pain away except by going to the emergency room. It basically is the light frying your eye balls so bad that your eyes are blistering inside from the burn. yes painful and I lost count of the number of times that has happened. They say the eyes heal from this,but dozens of times? I am not sure.


I have also got a few eye injuries from logging; limbs springing back and raking me across the eyes, and sticks jabbing straight into my eyes.

At 43 years old I don't have to wear glasses yet, but I am close they say!
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