By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Medicine
As a health reporter, I spend hours in front of my computer monitor every day tracking and writing about the latest advances in natural medicine. And, even though I love what I do, it can be extremely hard on the eyes.
Unless our eyes are bothering us, most of us don’t pay much attention to them – and I’m as guilty as anyone. But poor nutrition, excessive sunlight and yes, long hours in front of a computer can be a set-up for some serious vision problems later in life, including cataracts and macular degeneration.
Like all of our other body parts, our eyes need good nutrition to function properly. If you eat a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, you should be getting all of the antioxidants you need to help protect your eyes. But it’s hard to maintain a healthy diet all of the time, particularly when we’re busy. The good news is that you can cover your nutritional bases by supplementing your diet with a good multi-vitamin and mineral supplement. Make sure your supplement includes vitamin C and E, the B vitamins, selenium, zinc and carotenoids, especially beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, which research has shown are vital to healthy eyes.
Along with making sure you’re getting plenty of eye-friendly nutrients, there are other simple things you can do maintain good eyesight for life. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the hours you and I spend in front of the computer monitor can result in red or watery eyes, difficulty focusing and eye fatigue. Luckily, preventing computer eyestrain is easy. Just get up and do something else for five minutes every hour or so to give your eyes a much-needed break.
Sun exposure is one of the major contributors to age-related macular degeneration, say scientists at the University of Wisconsin. The next time you’re in the market for a new pair of sunglasses, make sure they come with a special coating that blocks both UVA and UVB rays.
Last week I told you about some natural ways to relive the respiratory symptoms of seasonal allergies. But allergies can also make our eyes look and feel miserable. When I moved to the desert, I never dreamed that allergies would be a problem. But the few blooming botanicals we do have can bring on an instant case of itchy, red and swollen eyes. For pollen-induced irritation, I’ve found that the advice nutritionist Phyllis Balch gives in her book “Prescription for Herbal Healing” (Avery Publishing, 2002) provides fast relief. She recommends taking 500 to 1,000 mg. of stinging nettles, which acts like a natural antihistamine. To reduce swelling and redness, you can also bathe your eyes with an eyewash containing an extract of the anti-inflammatory herb eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis).
Once I hit my 40th birthday, I started noticing that it was harder to see at night. I asked my ophthalmologist if there were any herbs I could take to improve my night vision. He suggested that I try bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus). Research shows that bilberry rejuvenates the light-sensitive pigment in the retina and improves eye capillary health. Studies on air-traffic controllers, airplane pilots and truck drivers have found that bilberry also helps improve night vision and shortens the time it takes for our eyes to adjust to the dark. Doctors and herbalists typically recommend taking 240 to 480 mg. of bilberry a day.
By the way, my ophthalmologist also mentioned that nightblindness can be an early sign of vitamin A deficiency, so make sure you’re getting enough of this important vitamin in your diet, preferably in the form of beta-carotene.
One Last Thing …
My daughter used to get terrible episodes of conjunctivitis, better known as “pink-eye.” A bacterial infection, virus or injury to the eye can bring on this painful and unsightly condition. And, as my daughter discovered, wearing contact lenses can also increase your risk. While serious conjunctivitis is best treated by a health professional, many herbalists say that taking 500 mg. of goldenseal (Hydrastis Canadensis) three times a day is an effective remedy for mild cases. (A word of caution: don’t take goldenseal internally for more than seven days and avoid the herb entirely if you have high blood pressure or are pregnant.) To help relieve the pain and itching associated with conjunctivitis, you can also make an eyewash with a tincture of goldenseal.
The gift of sight is precious. It’s great to know that there are natural steps we can all take to keep them healthy for a lifetime.
AREDS Report No. 8. “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.” Archives of Ophthalmology. 2001; 119:1417-1436.
de Oliveira Miguel, et al. “Ultrastructural study of first and second order neurons in the visual system of the crab Ucides cordatus following exposure to ultraviolet radiation.” Micron 2002; 33:627-637.
Head KA. “Natural therapies for ocular disorders.” Alternative Medicine Review. 2001; 6: 141-146.
Mares-Perlman JA, et al. “Lutein and zeaxanthin in the diet and serum and their relation to age-related maculopathy in the third national health and nutrition examination survey.” American Journal of Epidemiology. 2001; 152: 424-432.