Three Steps to Clearer Vision
Julian Whitaker, MD
Driving, reading, watching your favorite sports events or movies, gazing into the eyes of your loved ones, even walking across the street and shopping unassisted: these and countless other of life’s daily activities and pleasures depend upon vision, our dominant sense.
One of the true tragedies of aging is the deterioration of sight. Around the age of 40, as the lenses begin to lose their elasticity, small print becomes harder to read, necessitating reading glasses for many. Once you reach your sixties, the likelihood of more serious ocular disorders—macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy—accelerates.
Vision Loss Can Be Prevented
Folks, these are serious problems that can rob you of your vision. Yes, there are treatments. Diabetic retinopathy can often be treated by laser, and glaucoma usually responds to drugs and surgery. Cataracts, which affect half of those over age 75, can also be safely and effectively corrected by surgery, as 1.2 million Americans per year will attest. However, the prognosis for macular degeneration is dismal. Although some types of this condition can be ameliorated by laser therapy, macular degeneration remains the number-one cause of blindness in older Americans.
As with most conditions, prevention is the best medicine. To preserve your vision, you need to institute an aggressive, disciplined program, and it’s never too early (or too late) to start. Let me tell you about the approach I use myself and with my patients at the Whitaker Wellness Institute.
1. Get Protection With an Antioxidant-Rich Multivitamin
A significant contributor to all diseases of aging, including cataracts and macular degeneration, is free radical damage. Free radicals are unstable molecules that steal electrons from healthy cells, destabilizing them and setting off a chain reaction of cellular destruction. Their production is accelerated by ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight, and no organ in your body receives as much UV radiation as your eyes. The very process of seeing is harmful to your eyes.
Fortunately, nature has provided us with an antidote. Antioxidants, produced by your body and found in plants, neutralize free radicals and protect cells from damage. For maximum protection, supplemental antioxidants are a must. This has been demonstrated in a number of studies. In a 1998 analysis of the supplement intake and cataract incidence of 764 people over a five-year period, the risk of cataracts in regular users of multivitamin supplements was reduced by one third. In those who took vitamin E regularly, the risk was reduced by one half.
Vitamin C also offers protection. According to a Harvard study of 121,700 female nurses, women taking the highest amounts of supplemental vitamin C had 40% fewer cataracts over 10 years than those taking the least amount of vitamin C. Other eye-healthy antioxidants are vitamin A, beta-carotene, and the minerals zinc and selenium.
2. Eat Dark, Leafy Greens
Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is an excellent step towards vision preservation, as these plant foods contain an abundance of health enhancing phytochemicals. Among the phytochemicals that provide particular protection for the eyes are the carotenoids.
In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers evaluated the diets of 365 men and women with age-related macular degeneration and compared them with the diets of 520 people with normal vision. They discovered that the group with the highest consumption of carotenoid-rich foods had 43 percent fewer cases of macular degeneration than the group with the lowest. Interestingly, the greatest protection was derived not from carrots, which are known for their vision-protecting powers, but from dark, leafy green vegetables, especially spinach and collard greens.
These plant foods contain lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids that are highly concentrated in the eyes, and these compounds absorb some of the harmful radiation that enters the eyes. They also increase the thickness of the macula, the area in the retina involved in central vision that thins or degenerates as we age.
3. Protect Your Eyes With Targeted Herbs and Amino Acids
Now let’s add a few “designer” nutrients, more esoteric elements that truly have miraculous effects on the eyes. Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), a cousin to blueberries and cranberries, contains anthocyanosides and other flavonoids that improve circulation, strengthen collagen and discourage inflammation in eye tissues.
Ginkgo biloba is another flavonoid-rich herb that is beneficial for the eyes. Ginkgo flavone glycosides and other active constituents enhance vision primarily by neutralizing free radicals and increasing blood flow to the tiny capillaries of the eyes. Other herbs that benefit the eyes include eyebright, schisandra, and periwinkle.
Several amino acids are involved in vision. Taurine is concentrated in the photoreceptors of the retina, where it stabilizes cell membranes. N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) helps maintain ocular levels of the important antioxidant glutathione. Taken together, these nutrients act like internal sunglasses, protecting your eyes from the hazards of ultraviolet radiation.
- To talk to a Patient Services Representative about having your vision problems treated at the Whitaker Wellness Institute, call (866) 944-8253 or click here.
- Supplement with an antioxidant-rich daily vitamin and mineral supplement, plus a nutritional supplement targeting eye health. Look for these in health food stores or order by calling (800) 810-6655.
- Remember to eat plenty of dark, leafy greens and other antioxidant and carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables regularly.
- Seddon, JM et al. Dietary carotenoids, vitamins A, C, and E, and advanced age-related macular degeneration. JAMA. Nov. 9, 1994;272(18): 1413-1420.
- Bravetti, G. Preventive medical treatment of senile cataract with vitamin E and anthocyanosides: clinical evaluation. Ann Ophthalmol Clin Ocul. 1989:115: 109.
- Leske, MC et al. Antioxidant vitamins and nuclear opacities. Ophthalmology. 1998;105:831-6.
Modified from Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Copyright 2006. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healing, click here.