Eye disease is one of the most common causes of permanent disability in the United States. More than 20 million Americans age 40 and older have cataracts, and 10 million Americans age 60 and over have age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
For those of you who can’t stop time, nutrition and lifestyle changes are your best bets for preventing or slowing the development of cataracts and AMD.
The nutrients associated with eye health are vitamins C and E, beta carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, vitamins B6, B9 (folate), and B12.
Two landmark studies, conducted by the National Eye Institute (part of the National Institutes of Health), the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) and AREDS2, provided evidence that a combination of these nutrients in specific amounts reduced the risk of developing advanced AMD in participants who had already-existing dry or wet AMD by as much as 25 to 30 percent.
Antioxidants help prevent the cross linking of proteins in the lens which can cause cataracts. They also help deter build-up of waste products in the retina, which in turn helps reduce risk for AMD. Folate and vitamin B6 help lower the risk for AMD by decreasing the presence of the blood chemical homocysteine.
Did you know that a diet high in refined carbohydrates can adversely impact eye health?
The formation of cataracts has been associated with excessive consumption of refined carbohydrates (corn bread, white rice, white bread, grits, flour and corn tortillas, candy, table sugar, cakes, and cookies). Refined carbohydrates may also increase the risk of developing AMD. It is hypothesized that the resulting sugar spikes deliver too much glucose to the eye too quickly and hinder the ability of the eye to utilize the energy provided by the glucose.
Powerhouse foods for your eye health
For the eyes to function properly the circulatory system must constantly supply the eyes with essential vitamins minerals and proteins. Following is a list of foods that contain essential nutrients for the eye:
- Eggs (lutein and zeaxanthin)
- Carrots and sweet potatoes (vitamin A and its precursor beta-carotene)
- Oranges and strawberries (vitamin C and folate)
- Dark leafy greens such as kale and spinach (lutein, vitamin E)
- Pumpkin seeds and walnuts (zinc, vitamin E)
- Anchovies, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, and white fish (omega-3 fatty acids)
If your dietary intake is not giving you the essential vitamins and minerals you need to maintain healthy eyes consult your eye care practitioner who can recommend dietary supplements to you. Also, if you are over 60 years old, it is highly recommended that you get a dilated eye exam at least once a year.