By David Blyweiss, M.D.
As we age, most of us notice that our vision isn’t quite as sharp as it once was. I know that there are times I find myself squinting at my computer monitor. But eye health goes far beyond fatigue and eye strain. There are 3 very serious conditions that can steal your vision: age-related macular degeneration, cataract and glaucoma.
The prospect of vision loss is terrifying, but these eye diseases don’t have to be part of the normal aging process.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (ARMD) is the leading cause of blindness in Americans 60 and older. Smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure increase your risk for developing this devastating disease that destroys central vision.
There are two types of ARMD:
- Dry ARMD develops slowly and causes a gradual blurring of vision.
- Wet ARMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels behind the retina leak blood and other fluid, damaging the macula. It can occur rapidly.
Once the disease appears, it’s considered irreversible, so prevention is key. Taking supplemental carotenoids, especially lutein and zeaxanthin, can significantly reduce your risk by lessening free radical damage.1 Plus, vitamins C and E play a role in prevention. Many berries—bilberries in particular—are also excellent for eye protection.
Glaucoma occurs when excess fluid puts pressure on the optic nerve. Chronic glaucoma can cause a loss of peripheral vision. But a sudden spike in pressure, considered acute glaucoma, can cause redness, blurred vision and dilated or fixed pupils. Acute glaucoma can also be quite painful. If you suspect that you are suffering from acute glaucoma, see your doctor immediately before permanent blindness occurs.
It’s also important to have your eyes checked for glaucoma every two years after age 18, and annually after age 60. But the good news is that you can take steps now to prevent glaucoma in the future.
A standardized gingko biloba extract can prevent glaucoma and improve vision if you already have the condition by reducing oxidative stress in the eye.2
Studies also show that taking 2,000 mg. of vitamin C daily can help reduce inner eye pressure. The omega-3 fatty acids found in cold-water fish such as salmon are also protective and have been shown to reduce the pressure. Along with taking a high potency fish oil supplement, it’s smart to eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fatty fish.
Cataracts are the most common cause of blindness in the United States—and there’s a good chance you will develop them at some point in your life. An opaque film forms over the eye, distorting or impairing vision. Colors may seem faded, light may appear too bright, and night vision may be reduced. Maintaining a high level of glutathione is important—this antioxidant is present in the lens of the eye and appears to be significantly reduced in those with cataracts. The best way to boost your glutathione levels is by taking n-acetyl cysteine (NAC).3
Here’s my prescription for protecting your vision as you age. Make sure you’re getting each of these natural sight savers every day:
- At least 10 mg. of lutein
- 3 mg. of zeaxanthin,
- 100 mg. of bilberry
- 60-120 mg. of gingko biloba
- 260 mg. of NAC
- 500 mg. vitamin C
- 200 IU vitamin E
1. Hahn A. Lutein and eye health–current state of discussion. Med Monatsschr Pharm. 2008;31:299-308.
2. Mozaffarieh M. A novel perspective on natural therapeutic approaches in glaucoma therapy. Expert Opinion on Emerging Drugs. 2007;12:195-198.
3. Babizhayev MA. New concept in nutrition for the maintenance of the aging eye redox regulation and therapeutic treatment of cataract disease; synergism of natural antioxidant imidazole-containing amino acid-based compounds, chaperone, and glutathione boosting agents: a systemic perspective on aging and longevity emerged from studies in humans. American Journal of Therapeutics. 2010;17:373-389