Aside from corrective eyewear and contact lenses, I’m often asked what can be done on a routine basis to prevent and maintain prolonged eye health. It’s a great question and an even better topic to discuss amidst the current pandemic landscape we’ve found ourselves in. Fortunately, the following points are easy to implement into your daily lifestyle.
Nutrition and Lifestyle
It goes without saying, but we are what we eat. Evidence from research suggests that there are many choices to optimize eye health and well being. Some may even help slow the progression of age-related eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration, age-related cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and dry eye. It is likely that the results would hold for other eye conditions that are in influenced by the same biological processes that promote the degeneration of tissues and blood vessels as we age. These processes include oxidative stress and inflammation. They are all affected by the food we eat and the lifestyle choices we make.
For optimal eye health, I would encourage you to savor good food, move and breathe (especially outdoors), and quit smoking or don’t start smoking. In addition, if you take supplements, do so in moderation, and make sure to not overlap the same ingredients from differing multi-supplements.
In regards to food choices, the easiest way to start is by making plant-based foods the center of your meals. I would recommend getting 5-9 servings a day of fruits and vegetables. Lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin have important antioxidant functions in the body. Along with other natural antioxidants, including vitamin C, beta-carotene and vitamin E, these important pigments guard the body from damaging effects of free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can destroy cells and play a role in many diseases. The good news is, they are abundant in plant-based foods.
So what foods contain these vitamins and micronutrients?
Colorful Fruits and Vegetables: Foods such as carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, strawberries, pumpkin, corn and cantaloupe are excellent sources of vitamins A and C. I like the phrase, “eat the rainbow” when it comes to fruits and veggies.
Legumes: Kidney beans, black-eyed peas and lentils are good sources of bioflavonoids and zinc — and can help protect the retina and lower the risk for developing macular degeneration and cataracts
Nuts and seeds: These superfoods contain omega-3 fatty acids and have many eye health benefits, including helping to prevent or control dry eye syndrome as well as reduce the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts. Flaxseed, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and almonds are excellent options. Look for seeds and nuts that are unsalted. *A note on omega-3 supplements: the Western diet has an ever-increasing ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids; this has bolstered a huge supplement industry pushing more omega-3 fatty acids. Lowering your ratio of omega-6 to 3 fatty acids and eating foods with naturally occurring omega-3 fatty acids, and less omega-6s, can help create a better balance between the two in your diet.
Citrus Fruits and Berries: Oranges, grapefruits, lemons and berries are high in vitamin C, which may reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.
Taking all that has been recommended above, I’m not implying that you need to become a vegetarian or vegan. High quality animal-based foods also supply us great sources of much needed nutrients. Fish from cold waters (ex: salmon, lake trout, mackerel, sardines) once or twice per week, are a great addition. These foods help to provide omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, selenium, and B-12. Eggs (but not egg substitutes) are also an easy-to-absorb source of lutein, which is associated with better health of the lens and retina.
Many of you may be asking yourselves, “Why can’t I just take a pill with all of these vitamins already in it?” You can, but the vitamins and micronutrients in these whole foods are more naturally bioavailable to your body. Foods contain a complex web of phytochemicals and micronutrients that are entangled; separating individual components and hoping to achieve the same benefit is never as good as the whole food approach.
Yes, ultraviolet (UV) eye protection matters. UV radiation from the sun can damage not only the thin skin of your eyelids but also the cornea, lens and other parts of the eye. UV exposure contributes to the development of certain types of cataracts, cancerous growths on the eye, and macular degeneration. To protect your eyes, look for sunglasses that block 99% to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays, and screen out 75% to 90% of visible light. If you spend a lot of time outdoors in bright sunlight, consider wearing wraparound frames for additional protection from harmful solar radiation. Don’t forget UV protection for your children and teenagers! They typically spend more time in the sun than adults.
Chronic exposure to shorter-wavelength visible light (blue and violet light) may also be harmful to the retina. Many digital devices emit this shorter-wavelength visible light. As we all are aware, digital device usage is becoming more and more prevalent in our daily lives. Blue light is natural, and a critical part of the visible light spectrum. The sun emits an abundance of blue light, as do artificial light sources, such as LEDs, computers and smartphones. Some types of blue light can be beneficial, helping us regulate our bodies’ internal biological clocks. However, blue-violet light can be harmful to the eyes, specifically the retina. It is a risk factor for the onset of age-related macular degeneration, a deterioration of the part of the retina responsible for sharp, central vision.
A recent study found that Americans spend almost 2 ½ hours on their tablets and smartphones every day (I beg to differ that this amount is far greater than that). In addition, most offices and stores use fluorescent light bulbs, and LED lights are becoming increasingly popular. Lenses that absorb harmful blue light, but allow beneficial blue light through, are a great addition to your optical toolkit.
One of the most common conditions I see in the exam room is blepharitis. While it can take many forms, it is essentially inflammation of the eyelids caused by bacteria and/or excessive oil production. The warm and moist base of your eyelashes is a favorable environment for such bacteria. This issue leads to red, irritated, and itchy lids and lashes. In many cases, good hygiene can help control blepharitis. This includes frequently washing the scalp and face, using warm compresses to soak the eyelids and scrubbing the eyelids with a gentle cleanser (I like baby shampoo) every other day. When a bacterial infection is causing or accompanies blepharitis, antibiotics and other medications may be prescribed.
Annual, dilated exams
Last but not least, see your local eye care professional for a comprehensive, annual eye examination with dilation. These visits are not just about glasses and contacts; they allow your doctor to examine the complete health of your eyes. A routine exam should include microscopic inspection of your lids and lashes, cornea, conjunctiva, lens, vitreous humor, and retina. Getting your eyes dilated allows your doctor to “open up the window” to your eyes and inspect all of these critical, internal components to make sure they are functioning well and that there is no ocular disease present or indicated in the future.
As always, thank you for your time and consideration. Taking these steps above will prove critical for your prolonged, crisp vision and eye health. We at VIP Eye Care & Optical Boutique are here for you and your family, and it’s our mission to keep your eyes healthy for a lifetime. After all, your vision is priceless!