By Bonnie Jenkins
As Baby Boomers increasingly celebrate turning 60, many are noticing that thier vision isn’t what it used to be. In fact, age-related eye conditions are increasing for those entering the senior set. Fortunately, you don’t have to watch your eyesight deteriorate with each passing year. Simple changes in what you eat and the supplements you take can help you stay in focus.
Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), a disease that gradually destroys central vision, is the most common cause of vision loss in the U.S. among people aged 65 and older. It’s a debilitating disease. ARMD can obstruct your ability to see the details of someone’s face or read a book or a road sign. And once ARMD progresses, there’s no turning back.
Eye health deepends on many factors. According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), the greatest risk factor for ARMD is age, followed by smoking, obesity, race (Caucasians are more prone than African-Americans), family history (an immediate relative with ARMD), and gender (women are more susceptible than men). But ARMD is preventable. Just like your skin, your eyes need protection frorm the harmful rays of the sun. New research suggests that key foods and nutrients might be a simple, inexpensive sunscreen to help protect vision from the inside-out.
The last two decades have generated vital data on eye health and nutrition. The most well-known study, the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), has pinpointed specific nutrients that fend off vision loss from advanced ARMD. This large clinical trial, which was conducted by researchers at Tufts University, found that high doses of zinc and the antioxidants vitamins C and E and beta-carotene significantly reduce the risk for developing advanced ARMD by 25 percent.
Of course, these antioxidants aren’t the only nutrients that can protect against ARMD. Two carotenoids—lutein and zeaxanthin—are naturally found in the eye and form the macular pigment in your eye’s retina. According to research in the Journal of Nutrition, macular pigment may reduce oxidation and free-radical damage in the central retina by absorbing harmful wavelengths of light. That’s why eye health experts advise people to consume at least six mg. of supplemental lutein and zeaxanthin every day to reduce the risk of AMD and cataract formation. You can get even more of these two carotenoids by including lutein- and zeaxanthin-rich foods in your diet, especially kale, spinach and egg yolks.
Fats—the right fats—can also help keep ARMD at bay. Researchers have found that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish, flaxseed and walnuts boast powerful eye health benefits. DHA is largely present in the eye’s retina. And, omega-3 fatty acids’ powerful anti-inflammatory properties hold promisefor eye health by reducing inflammation. In one recent study, researchers at The National Eye Institute and George Washington University followed 1,837 AREDS participants with moderate to high risk for ARMD. They found that those who consumed the most omega-3 fatty acids (primarily from fish and seafood) were 30 percent less likely to develop advanced ARMD. In addition to eating more fish, it’s smart to take 3,000 mg. of supplemental fish oil daily.
Unlike your joints or your hormones, your eyesight can’t ever be replaced once it’s gone. So it pays big dividends to protect the vision you have with an eye-friendly diet and these smart supplements. And don’t forget to get checked by an optometrist or ophthalmologist annually to keep an eye on your vision health.
Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group. A randomized, placebo-controlled, clinical trial of high-dose supplementation with vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and zinc for age-related macular degeneration and vision loss: AREDS Report No. 8. Archives of Ophthalmology. 2001; 119: 1417-1436.
Fletcher AE. Sunlight exposure, antioxidants, and age-related macular degeneration. Archives of Ophthalmology. 2008;126:1396-1403.
SanGiovanni JP. 3 Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid intake and 12-y incidence of neovascular age-related macular degeneration and central geographic atrophy: AREDS report 30, a prospective cohort study from the Age-Related Eye Disease Study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009 90: 1601-1607