From Dr. John Metzger, OD
This will not quite be a Shakespearean treatise, but I wanted to use a title that was ‘eye catching’ for the subject at hand, which is eating to enhance your vision in conjunction with the annual Healthy Vision Month in May.
While the troops (optometrists and ophthalmologists) are on the front lines of medically treating eye ailments, there is much that you can do to help them out by keeping the home fires burning.
Here are five of the most often encountered eye conditions along with effective nutritional and supplement support information.
Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
Oxidants are chemicals which attack and deteriorate (oxidize) many vital body substances. Antioxidants on the other hand protect against oxidation. These antioxidants are abundantly available in common foods.
So, without a lot of wordy why’s and scientific jargon, consider at least five servings daily (one from each group) of:
1) Citrus fruits, berries, melons, tomatoes, cabbage, potatoes
2) Vegetable oils, almonds, pistachios, wheat germ, whole grains, turnip greens, mangoes
3) Carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, collards, cantaloupe, apricots
4) Chicken, pork, liver, eggs, seafood
5) Cocoa beans (dark chocolate!), dried fruits, nuts, whole grains
So, sounds pretty much like your typical shopping list, doesn’t it? This is not ‘rocket science.’ If you can, be very consistent with the underlined items. And the ever-present general disclaimer (for the whole article in fact): If your physician recommends avoiding anything on the list for your own special constitution, heed their advice.
Now, if adjusting your daily menu is too difficult or you have no control over it (e.g. Meals on Wheels), then vitamin/mineral supplements can ensure that you get what you need. Most of you who deal with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) have probably heard of the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) vitamin capsules or are currently taking them. The AREDS studies go back to 1998 and 2006. New studies have shown that an updated, augmented formulation works even better: MacuHealth Plus.
There are fewer published studies concerning diet and glaucoma than macular degeneration. However, consider these options:
1) Coffee consumption transiently raises eye pressure
2) At least one cup of tea (presumably black tea) makes you less likely to develop glaucoma
3) As in macular degeneration, the antioxidants and other nutrients in a variety of fruits and vegetables decreases the risk of glaucoma, especially collards, kale, spinach, carrots and peaches
Supplements that are beneficial include:
1) Ginkgo biloba extract (slows the progression of visual field loss in some studies) 2) A daily saffron (the spice) capsule helped lower eye pressure
3) Vitamin C is linked to decreases chance of glaucoma
Also, a normal weight is beneficial.
Before going on, let me relate an interesting tidbit. On one of the topics covered in this article, there was a study with over 20,000 subjects which showed a positive effect of a given substance on a certain disease. And two or three sentences into the summary, the author reported another study with over 20,000 subjects which showed no effects from the same substance. So, studies are fine, but not always the final word.
There are different types of cataracts. Basically, a cataract is a foggy lens… somewhat like wearing a facemask beneath your glasses. But, you have a different ‘type’ of cataract depending on if the cataract fog is on the front side, back side, edges or center of your natural eye lens. The first food to recommend (which is helpful for central haze and back side haze) is good old protein in the diet, preferably at least four ounces daily. Other vitamin/nutrient aids to cataract prevention sound like the AMD recommendations above: vitamins B and C and leafy green vegetables. In fact, the MacuHealth supplement would supply the important ones. Oh, and avoid large amounts of carbohydrates.
Not so many years ago, when a patient had dry eyes, we would just toss a bottle of artificial tears their way because there wasn’t much else to do. Today there is a flood of dry eye patients (partly from so much extended computer use) and we know of more than a dozen causes. Furthermore, there are several levels of treatment… no more just a one-size-fits-all bottle of artificial tears. In fact, some optometrists and ophthalmologists devote their entire practice to dry eye treatment.
Inflammation is a major culprit here. Inflammation can cause cancer, diabetes, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and many other serious diseases. In the case of dry eye disease, the inflammation stems from an imbalance of fatty acids in the system: mainly too much omega-6 and too little omega-3. Some inflammation reactions are beneficial to the body but obviously, too much is bad. So, the goal is proper balance and one way to do this is to balance the fatty acid intake. Now, actual studies on increasing omega-3 oils in the diet have been somewhat contradictory, but so many individuals report significant relief that in YOU it is certainly worth a try to consume at least 500 mg a day of omega-3 (see your supplement store). In your grocery shopping, choose grass fed over grain fed meat as well as eggs and yogurt. And by the way, if you have coronary heart disease, 1000 mg omega-3 daily is recommended. The high omega-6 foods to cut down on include oils of corn, soybean, peanut and sunflower (coconut and olive oils along with butter are preferred). Beware that there are high levels of omega-6 oils in mayonnaise, margarine and salad dressing.
Poor Night Vision
This can be a sign of other eye diseases, especially in early stages, especially all of the above four items. So, do get your eyes checked to rule these out. Or, you just might have a normal prescription change that exceeded your comfort zone. One nutritional supplement you should definitely try contains ingredients in dark leafy green vegetables… as underlined above. The retina inside your eye thrives on the ingredients in these veggies (lutein, zeaxanthin). As mentioned, MacuHealth Plus is a good place to start [no financial involvement here, just a lot of research]. Other foods/supplements which help are bilberries or their extract, taurine and the ever-popular omega-3 fatty acids (as a supplement or in salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, oysters, anchovies). Also helpful: green tea extract, ginko biloba extract, vitamin B complex.
There are several nutrients or foods common to several of the diseases discussed. In addition, the “good foods” look like a pretty normal shopping list. So, it should not take a great deal of reorganization to support your eye doctor by keeping those home fires burning (or at lease by warming up the stove).
P.S. I hope it goes without saying that with all of the advice in this short article, these suggestions do not replace the counsel of an ophthalmologist or optometrist.
Dr. John Metzger is one of Kansas City’s leading optometrists with more than 40 years of experience. Dr. Metzger works in the special areas of developmental optometry, vision therapy, low vision rehabilitation and neuro-optometry. He assists people of all ages whose vision restricts reading, learning, work tasks, hobbies, driving and enjoying daily life.