A New Year usually starts with New Resolutions and often begins with a new weight management plan! But our eyesight is equally as important as our weight and overall wellbeing. We sometimes forget how important it is to maintain healthy vision which not only allows us to see around but also helps to control our sleep-wake cycle and transfer visual information to the brain. Although the risk of developing eye disease is mostly influenced by our genetic predisposition, our diet may also contribute to its severity.
With older age the risk of developing eye disease increases. The most common eye disorders include: cataract when the eyes become clouded, diabetic retinopathy caused when high blood sugar damages the blood vessels in the retina of the eye, glaucoma where the optic nerves degenerate causing compromised connectivity between visual information from the eye to the brain, dry eye disease where the eye doesn’t produce enough tear drop fluid leading to drying and discomfort. Macular (central part of retina) degeneration is one of the most common eye diseases in developed countries and can even lead to blindness!
Vitamin A deficiency is believed to be one of the most common causes of blindness in the world. This vitamin is crucial to support the photocells (photoreceptors) in the eye which are responsible for sensing light and also the regulation of our sleep-wake cycle. Depletion of vitamin A can contribute to night blindness and dry eyes1. The most common sources of vitamin A can be found in animal derived products such as dairy, liver and egg yolks. 30% of people’s vitamin A requirements can also be found in some fruit and vegetables in the form of an antioxidant plant compound called provitamin A carotenoids which our body can convert into vitamin A2. Beta – carotene is one of the most potent sources of carotenoids and so the old myth “carrots help you see in the dark” is partially true as carrots contain a very high amount of it alongside spinach and kale! (2)
Lutein and zeaxanthin are known as macula pigments and are concentrated in the macula central part of retina in the eye. These pigments act as natural sunblock protecting the eye against light induced damage. Studies suggest that people who consume higher levels of Lutein and zeaxanthin have 43% lower risk of age related macular degeneration than those with the lowest intake3. Observational studies only conducted the results against late stages of AMD and not its early development stages therefore further investigation is required. The best sources of Lutein and zeaxanthin are dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, chard and kale, green peas, alongside orange and yellow fruits and veg such as: yellow peppers, sweetcorn and grapes. Egg yolk is believed to be the best source of lutein and zeaxanthin due to its high fat content which helps to better absorb carotenoids. So when you make your green leafy salad ensure you add some healthy fats such as olive oil or avocados to allow sufficient absorption of all the goodness from your plate.
Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are also very important for our eye health. DHA is found in the retina and help to support eye function. Deficiency can impair vision. DHA supports brain and eye development during infancy and its depletion can effect children’s vision. Research suggests that taking Omega 3 supplements can help dry eye disease sufferers. A recent study discovered that after taking EPA and DHA every day for three months dry eye symptoms were reduced significantly and formation of tear fluid increased4. According to another study taking at least 500mg of Omega 3 daily can also help to reduce the risk of diabetic retinopathy5. The best dietary sources of Omega 3 are oily fish however if you are not keen on eating fish you may supplement with Omega 3 derived from fish or microalgea which are widely available.
Gamma linioleic acids found in evening primrose oil may help to reduce the symptoms of dry eye disease. One study found that supplementing 300mg of evening primrose oil daily over a 6 month period helped to improve symptoms6.
Vitamin E is another powerful antioxidant which protects fatty acids from oxidation. The retina has a high concentration of Omega 3 especially DHA and an adequate level of vitamin E is important for the optimal eye health and retinal integrity. Vitamin E deficiency can lead to retinal decline and blindness. Some studies suggest that more than 7mg of vitamin E daily can reduce the risk of age-related cataracts7. However for those who aren’t deficient supplementing won’t bring much benefit. Randomised controlled studies suggest that supplementing vitamin E didn’t slow or prevent the development of cataract disease.
The most efficient way of consuming vitamin E is from food sources such as sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, spinach, beet greens, wheat germ oil, flaxseed and vegetable oils.
Zinc is part of many enzymes which have antioxidant properties. It is also involved in the formation of visual pigments in the retina. Its depletion can cause night blindness8. One study found that after consuming Zinc participants suffering early macular decline showed a slowed degeneration and improved visual sharpness to those who received a placebo treatment9. Good sources of Zinc can be found in meat (100-gram serving of raw ground beef provides 44% of the DV) oysters, legumes such as chickpeas, lentil and beans, hemp, flax, pumpkin and sesame seeds.
A healthy, nutritionally balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables appears to be the best way to not only support our bodies but also our vision. Controlling your blood sugar (glucose levels), blood pressure and cholesterol levels may help to reduce the risk of developing diabetic eye conditions such as diabetic retinopathy, retinal vessel occlusions and eye conditions related to stroke. Step into the 2021 with confident vision!