Protect your Vision

Diet and Supplements Can Help

If you notice changes in your eyesight, you're not alone. While important to report to your doctor, diminishing vision is a common sign of aging. "The incidence of eye disease jumps by ten times among older people," notes health journalist Bill Sardi.

Common Problems
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a condition in which the macula (light-sensitive cells) at the back of the eye gradually deteriorates. Early stages of this disease affect one-third of elderly Americans-and approximately 9 percent of them have already lost central vision. Report any vision loss to an eye doctor, who can make the only accurate diagnosis.

Cataract, or cloudiness (opacity) in the normally clear lens of the eye, impacts almost two-thirds of people age 60 and up. But all of us lose approximately 1 percent of transparency in the focusing lenses of the eyes each year. Also, people with diabetes may develop "sugar cataracts" along with other vision problems.

Glaucoma, called the "sneak thief of sight," can rob individuals of side (or peripheral) vision without their noticing. Half of all glaucoma cases go undetected. Although as little as 2 percent of people 40 and older suffer from glaucoma, its incidence increases up to 12 percent among the elderly.

Be Wise With Your Eyes
In addition to regular, thorough eye examinations, a healthy lifestyle clearly supports eyesight as you grow older. For example, regular exercise helps protect against AMD. Exposure to bright sunlight can damage the macula, especially in those with light-colored eyes, so wear sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat outdoors.

Useful in teasing out differences between genetic and environmental factors, research with twins confirms evidence that smoking raises the risk for macular degeneration, while the intake of omega-3 fish helps lower it.

Other ways diet can impact vision? Excessive alcohol use can threaten eye health. Eating too many carbohydrates has been associated with lens opacity, or cataracts. But long-term research at Tufts University links the intake of riboflavin, thiamine, and vitamin E with reduced cataract progression.

Overall, antioxidants are particularly beneficial to vision. "Researchers at the National Eye Institute found that giving 5,000 patients supplements of vitamins A, C, E, and beta carotene reduced early stage AMD by 19 percent," says nutritionist Marcia Zimmerman, MEd, CN.

"A 2003 review of several large trials found that supplements containing lutein and zeaxanthin appear to prevent and treat AMD," she adds. To include these carotenoids in your diet, eat eggs, kale, and spinach. More recent research shows that consuming one egg a day increases lutein levels in the body-without raising cholesterol.

Adults with AMD have low levels of vitamin E, which also helps protect against cataract formation. Besides eating broccoli, eggs, and wheat germ to boost E, consider natural E supplements (d-alpha tocopherol).

Selected Sources 7-Syndrome Healing by Marcia Zimmerman, CN, and Jayson Kroner, CSN ($16.95, Nutrition Solution, 2006) } "Associations between Intermediate Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Lutein and Zeaxanthin in the Carotenoids in Age-Related Disease Study (CAREDS) . . ."by S. M. Moeller et al., Arch Ophthalmol, 8/06 } "Cigarette Smoking, Fish Consumption, Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intake, and Associations with Age-Related Macular Degeneration . . ." by J. M. Seddon et al., Arch Ophthalmol, 7/06 } "Consumption of One Egg per Day Increases Serum Lutein and Zeaxanthin Concentrations in Older Adults without Altering Serum Lipid and Lipoprotein Cholesterol Concentrations" by E. F. Goodrow et al., J Nutr, 10/06 } Coping with Macular Degeneration by Dr. Patricia Gilbert ($13.95, Sheldon, 2006) } "Nutritional Antioxidants and Age-Related Cataract and Maculopathy" by C. J. Chiu and A. Taylor, Exp Eye Res, 7/28/06 } User's Guide to Eye Health Supplements by Bill Sardi ($5.95, Basic Health, 2003)

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