By Dr. Ted Archdale
Remember what your mother always said: “Eat your fruits and vegetables!” Moms do know best, especially when it comes to your eyes. Every cell in the human body needs a variety of nutrients to thrive, and the cells in your eyes are no exception. The retina, the light-sensitive layer in the back of the eye, is the most metabolically active tissue in the entire body and needs specific nutrients to function optimally. Recent studies show that we can keep our sight and maintain good vision by eating healthy. This, along with protecting your eyes from environmental influences such as smoking, blue light, and UV exposure, is critical to maintaining good vision throughout your life. Lastly, we know genetics plays a role in eye disease. What we eat and our environment can influence our genes. Your family history of eye disease and getting regular eye examinations will ensure early detection and intervention if needed.
The foods we choose determines the quality of the nutrients our bodies receive and in many studies poor nutrition has been associated with disease. The most well-known studies about eye disease, AREDS and AREDS2 (Age-Related Eye Disease Study-phase 1 and 2), looked at nutritional effects on the progression of eye diseases-namely Age-Related Macular Degeneration. These studies concluded that with the use of certain supplements in certain patients, the risk of advanced disease could be reduced.
So what does your diet need to include to support your eye health? A well-balanced diet including fruits and vegetables is the best source for the nutrients your eyes need. Vitamins A (beta-carotene), C, E, Zinc, Omega 3’s, as well as Lutein and Zeaxanthin, are the important nutrients for eye health. Eating peppers, carrots, fish, nuts, meat, and citrus will cover most Omega 3, Vitamin, and Zinc recommendations. Good sources of Lutein and Zeaxanthin are found in green vegetables like kale, collards, spinach, broccoli, beans, peas, as well as eggs and corn. But when inadequate amounts of these nutrients are consumed or if early disease is detected, supplements may be needed and recommended.
As with any disease process, early detection is critical. Newer instrumentation available, including digital retinal imaging (Optos) as well as Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT), helps eye doctors detect areas of concern much sooner. So as we get older and our moms are not around, we need to heed their advice and be watching for eye disease that could cause vision loss. When I think about eye nutrition I always remember what my mother would say, “Eat those carrots, they are good for your eyes, have you ever seen a rabbit with glasses?”.