By Geoffrey R. Harris, MD
Nothing is more critical than protecting our vision. While most all of our organs are important, our eyes are essential for reading, driving, watching television, and exploring the world. Read on to find out how to protect them with SuperFoods and super care.
SuperFoodsRx started with the eyes. Dr. Steven Pratt, one of the authors of the SuperFoodsRx books and a leading expert on the power of whole foods, is an eye doctor. In practice as an ophthalmologist in La Jolla, CA, Dr. Pratt witnessed the effect that aging, poor nutrition, and neglect had on vision and the eyes. His interest in the power of plant antioxidants and phytonutrients helped him create the first SuperFoodsRx book not just as a whole body nutrition program, but as a comprehensive, scientifically-based, eye health diet.
Like the rest of our bodies, our vision can decline with age. Free radicals and inflammation caused by high energy light can damage the sensitive structures of the eye. Ultraviolet light from the sun and even high intensity blue light can damage the lens and retina of our eyes. Cataracts, macular degeneration, and even calluses on the whites of our eyes (pterygia) are all related to free radicals, inflammation, and oxidative damage. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and vascular disease can also damage the very small blood vessels that provide blood and oxygen to the key part of the retina, called the macula. In fact, heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure are risk factors for macular degeneration and cataracts. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in the United States for people over 55 years old and a growing problem in this country. Cataracts and cloudiness in the lens of the eye can also lead to poor vision and light sensitivity.
The good news is that there are scientifically proven ways to protect your precious vision. Here is a list of my suggestions to ensure a lifetime of eye health:
- Eat your SuperFoods. The powerful antioxidants in the SuperFoods help to protect the retina and lens by absorbing and controlling free radicals. Especially critical to eye health are vitamin C, carotenoids, alpha-lipoic acid, and omega-3 fatty acids.
- This is redundant, but eat your SuperFoods! Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids that act as protective pigments in the back of the eye. Spinach is packed with these important carotenoids that the eye uses like a sunscreen to absorb high energy light before it can damage the cells in the eye. Kale and broccoli are also good sources of these important carotenoids.
- Okay, one more time, eat your SuperFoods! Salmon and other fatty fish are packed with omega-3 fatty acids that control inflammation and improve the functioning of the cells in the retina. People who eat fish at least twice a week have a lower risk of developing macular degeneration.
- Don't smoke. Smoking is one of the biggest, controllable risk factors for developing macular degeneration.
- Avoid trans-fats and fried foods.
- Cook with olive oil or canola oil. Limit your usage of vegetable oils like corn oil and soybean oil.
- Try to eat a low-fat diet.
- Be sure to control your blood pressure and cholesterol. The SuperFoods will help with these things, but sometimes people will need medication. Talk to your doctor and be sure to get a yearly physical.
- Exercise regularly. A sedentary lifestyle is associated with a higher risk for developing macular degeneration. Start by walking 30 minutes everyday.
- Protect your eyes from high energy ultraviolet (UV) light and intense blue light. Wear sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat when out during the day or driving when it is bright outside. Be sure to choose sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection that block 100% of UV light. Some sunglasses manufacturers will indicate that their glasses protect to 400 nanometers (nm), which is the end of the ultraviolet light spectrum and sufficient to block UV light. Sunglasses should fit comfortably and sit close to your face so that they block as much harmful light as possible. I recommend a wrap-around type that allows for peripheral vision.
- Sunglasses should have a tag or label when you buy them. Check the label to ensure that the glasses block 100% of UV light. If the glasses don't say they block 100% of UV light, don't buy them.
- Choose your sunglasses wisely. Try the sunglasses on to ensure that there is no visual distortion from the lens and that the glasses are comfortable. Choose impact resistant lens to protect against eye injuries. I like polarized sunglasses that also cut down on the glare from the light reflected from glass, water, snow, asphalt, and buildings. It is important to note that polarization does not block UV, polarized sunglasses should still indicate that they block 100% of ultraviolet light. Since I wear eyeglasses for astigmatism, I have a pair of glasses that fit over my regular glasses that I keep in my car. There are many options for sunglasses, and your eye doctor can help you choose if you are having difficulty.
- Blue-blocking. There is controversy surrounding the use of blue-blocking lens to diminish the damage caused by high energy blue light on the eye. While it is recognized that blue light can damage the retina, blocking too much blue light can cause color distortion, headaches, and eye strain. Blue-blocking lens are typically yellow or amber, and consequently they change the appearance of colors, especially traffic signals. Some people with early retinal damage will benefit from blue-blocking lens. Ask your eye doctor if you are someone who should have this type of lens.
- Children need sunglasses too. Damage to the eye from UV light starts in childhood, so start a healthy habit of having kids wear sunglasses when out in the sun or in the car.
- Take a daily multivitamin supplement and omega-3 supplement. Remember the omega-3 supplement should have 500 to 1000 mg of DHA and EPA, the long chain omega-3s that comes from fish or marine algae. Choose a multivitamin supplement with a whole food component that includes some carotenoids like lutein. The SuperFoodsRx supplement is a well-balanced supplement that includes the regular vitamins and minerals and adds a whole food component that provides the plant antioxidants from the SuperFoods.
- Adults should be getting at least 800 to 1000 IU of vitamin D as vitamin D3 (calcitriol). Low vitamin D levels are associated with an increased risk of developing eye disease. Check your daily supplement and add extra vitamin D as necessary. Milk and dairy products are often fortified with about 100 IU per serving. Personally, I take an extra vitamin D supplement in addition to my regular SuperFoodsRx Daily Dose.
- Get regular eye exams. Try to get a dilated, eye exam from an eye professional at least every two years. This should be more frequent for diabetics and individuals over 65.
- Finally, ask your doctor if a specially formulated eye supplement is a good idea for you. The SuperFoodsRx supplement is a well-rounded multivitamin that includes carotenoids like lutein, alpha-lipoic acid, and omega-3, but some people require a more specialized supplement.
So, eat your SuperFoods and take care of yourself. A SuperFoodsRx HealthStyle will help your whole body, even your eyes.