By Dr. Mercola
Contrary to popular belief, deteriorating vision is primarily a side effect of modern lifestyle. Aging does not automatically mean you will lose your eyesight. The key is to properly nourish your eyes throughout the years, and avoid chronic eye strain.
For example, I noticed my near vision started to deteriorate around 20 years ago, but after applying these principles, at 61, I don't wear reading glasses unless I need to see small print and there is very little light.
Staring at a computer screen for hours on end is a common cause of blurred vision, short-sightedness, and other eye problems.1
Spending time outdoors is helpful, and research suggests that children playing outdoors for at least 40 minutes a day have a reduced risk of short-sightedness.2
Your diet may be paramount though. Chronic vitamin A deficiency, for example, can lead to total blindness. Other nutrient insufficiencies significantly contribute to the development of macular degeneration.
Macular Degeneration Can Be Slowed or Prevented
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common cause of blindness among the elderly, followed by cataracts. There are two forms of macular degeneration:3 dry and wet.
Dry macular degeneration is the milder version that causes few symptoms, but it can degenerate into the wet form, in which blood vessels start growing in the back of your eye, causing your vision to blur.
A hallmark of wet AMD is loss of vision in the center of your field of vision. A healthy diet can likely prevent AMD in the first place, but supplements have also been shown to help slow down or stop the progression from the dry to the more advanced wet form.
As reported by The New York Times:4
"The federally funded Age-Related Eye Disease Study... found that people at high risk for advanced age-related macular degeneration could cut that risk by about 25 percent by taking a supplement that included:
500 milligrams of vitamin C, 400 I.Us of vitamin E, 10 milligrams of lutein, 2 milligrams of zeaxanthin, 80 milligrams of zinc, and 2 milligrams of copper."
Antioxidant-Rich Diet Protects Your Vision
Macular degeneration and cataracts are largely driven by free radical damage, and may in many cases be largely preventable by eating foods rich in antioxidants, such as:
- Anthocyanins, found in blueberries, bilberries, and black currants
- Lutein and zeaxanthin,5 found in green leafy vegetables and orange and yellow fruits and vegetables.
Research shows those who consume the highest levels of lutein and zeaxanthin have a 40 percent lower risk of advanced wet macular degeneration compared to those who eat the least6
- High quality animal-based omega-3 fats like those found in krill oil and wild-caught Alaskan salmon
- Bioflavonoids found in tea, cherries, and citrus fruits
- Vitamin D, found to some extent in various foods such as meats, but primarily created in response to direct sun exposure on bare skin. Vitamin D is particularly important for those with genetic risk factors for AMD.
Recent research7,8,9 found that middle-aged women who have a high-risk genotype and are vitamin D deficient are 6.7 times more likely to develop AMD than those without this genetic risk factor who also have sufficient vitamin D.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin — Two Key Nutrients for Your Eyes
Lutein and zeaxanthin are two key nutrients for eye health,10 as both of them are found in high concentrations in your macula,11 the small central part of your retina responsible for detailed central vision.
Lutein is also found in your macular pigment – known for helping to protect your central vision, and aid in blue light absorption — and zeaxanthin is found in your retina.
Though there's no recommended daily intake for lutein and zeaxanthin, studies have found protective benefits at a dosage of 10 mg of lutein per day, and 2 mg per day of zeaxanthin.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are often found together in foods, although zeaxanthin is far scarcer than lutein. They're primarily found in green leafy vegetables, with kale and spinach topping the list of lutein-rich foods.
Carrots, squash, and other orange and yellow fruits and vegetables also contain high amounts. In fact, the word lutein comes from the Latin word "luteus," which means "yellow." If you remember this, it may help you pick out vegetables likely to contain higher amounts of these two nutrients.
According to a 1998 study in the British Journal of Ophthalmology,12 orange pepper had the highest amount of zeaxanthin of the 33 fruits and vegetables tested.
Egg yolk from organically-raised, free-range pastured eggs is another source of both lutein and zeaxanthin that is well absorbed by your body. Interestingly, research13,14 shows that adding a couple of eggs to your salad can increase the carotenoid absorption you get from the whole meal as much as nine-fold.
Astaxanthin, a Powerful Promoter of Eye Health
Astaxanthin is a highly effective antioxidant produced by the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis. When the water supply dries up, this microalgae produces astaxanthin to protect itself from ultraviolet radiation. There are only two main sources of astaxanthin: the microalgae that produce it, and the sea creatures that consume the algae, such as salmon, shellfish, and krill.
Compelling evidence suggests astaxanthin may be among the most important nutrients for the prevention of blindness. As noted by Valensa:15 "[A]ntioxidants which can cross the blood brain/eye barrier would be expected to provide enhanced protection of the retina particularly if the antioxidant can reach the central retinal macula."
Dr. Mark Tso,16 who works at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University, was the head of clinic when I worked at the University of Illinois Eyebank in the1970s. He has demonstrated that astaxanthin easily crosses the eye barrier, and exerts its effects with more potency than any of the other carotenoids — including lutein and zeaxanthin — without any adverse reactions.
Other researchers17,18 have confirmed Dr. Tso's findings, and studies have demonstrated that astaxanthin offers potent protection against a number of eye-related problems, including:
Cataracts Age-related macular degeneration Cystoid macular edema Inflammatory eye diseases (i.e., retinitis, iritis, keratitis, and scleritis) Diabetic retinopathy Glaucoma Retinal arterial occlusion Venous occlusion
Astaxanthin also helps maintain appropriate eye pressure levels that are already within the normal range, and supports your eyes' energy levels and visual acuity. Depending on your individual situation, you may want to take an astaxanthin supplement. I recommend starting with 4 mg per day. Krill oil also contains high quality animal-based omega-3 fat in combination with naturally-occurring astaxanthin, albeit at lower levels than what you'll get from an astaxanthin supplement.
Black Currants and Bilberries, Two Powerful Berries for Eye Health
Dark blue or purplish, almost black-colored berries like black currants and bilberries contain high amounts of the antioxidant anthocyanins. Black currants contain some of the highest levels. They're also rich in essential fatty acids, lending added support to its anti-inflammatory properties. For medicinal purposes, many opt for using black currant seed oil, but eating the whole food is always an option, especially when they're in season.
Bilberry,19,20 a close relative of the blueberry, also contains high amounts of anthocyanins, just like the black currant. Research suggests the bilberry may be particularly useful for inhibiting or reversing macular degeneration. A 2005 study in the journal Advances in Gerontology21 found that rats with early senile cataract and macular degeneration who received 20 mg of bilberry extract per kilo of body weight suffered no impairment of their lens and retina, while 70 percent of the control group suffered degeneration over the three month long study.
According to the authors:
"The results suggest that... long-term supplementation with bilberry extract is effective in prevention of macular degeneration and cataract."
As for dosage, Total Health Magazine22 recently noted that "positive results in trials required the ingestion of 50 mg or more per day of anthocyanins. A prudent level of intake would be on the order of 90 or 100 mg of the anthocyanins per day." Similar dosage suggestions are given by the editors of PureHealthMD,23 who note that:
"When looking for a bilberry supplement for the eye, choose one that also includes 10 to 20 mg lutein and 1 to 2 mg zeaxanthin. Patients should target 80 to 160 mg daily. Those seeking prevention of eye disease, or just protection of the cells, can target 40 to 80 mg daily in combination with other antioxidant vitamins or in fruit combinations, such as blueberry/bilberry/raspberry."
The Bates Method May Help You See More Clearly
While it's easy to assume that once your vision has begun deteriorating there's no going back, this assumption may not be entirely true. According to Greg Marsh, a certified natural vision coach and the creator of the CD program Reclaim Your Eyesight Naturally, clear vision is achievable, even if you're already wearing strong corrective lenses.
The method Greg teaches is known as the Bates Method, conceived by Dr. William H. Bates over 100 years ago. A board-certified ophthalmologist at the top of his field, Dr. Bates helped many people regain their vision with his technique. In fact, it was so effective that optometrists lobbied the local politicians to ban it! Unfortunately, they succeeded, and the Bates Method ceased to be used.
The method is based on a rather simple premise. When you strain your eyes, such as when you squint, this action squeezes your eyeballs, contorting them. This makes your vision blurry, as it alters where the field of vision "lands" on your retina. By identifying the source of the stress and strain, you can learn to let it go, relax, and thereby getting your vision back.
Basically, your vision is not compromised because of weak eye muscles. They're strong enough. But, they're too tensed to work properly, so you have to learn to relax them. Unfortunately, when you wear glasses, you're actually retraining your eyes to strain in order to see all day long. So, ideally, you'll want to remove your glasses whenever you can safely do so. Also make sure you have appropriate lighting, especially when reading.
Two Sample Bates Method Techniques
A technique called the Bates Long Swing can help your eyes relax by relaxing your body. Begin by simply swaying your body back and forth. The simple act of languidly moving your body, even just a little bit, has a very soothing effect on your brain and thought patterns, and that alone can sometimes help you feel more relaxed during stressful situations.
Your eyes also respond. Instead of being locked in a stare, like a deer in headlights, they can begin to relax and move naturally again. You can do the Long Swing just about anywhere, anytime, provided you're standing up. One of the most famous Bates Method techniques is palming:
- Start by looking around and noticing the level of clarity of your vision at present.
- Place the center of your palms over your eyes. Relax your shoulders. You may want to lean forward onto a table or a stack of pillows, to facilitate relaxation. Relax like this for at least two minutes, focusing on relaxing your eyes, and sending love to your eyes through your palms. Feel free to engage your imagination here too, by imagining your eyes resuming their natural round shape.
- After about two minutes, remove your hands, open your eyes, and notice whether anything looks clearer. Usually, it will.
To learn more about this method, listen to my interview with Greg Marsh. You can also find a lot of information about the Bates Method on the web. Greg's program, Reclaim Your Eyesight Naturally, consists of six CDs and a 62-page guidebook that helps tie everything together. Just keep in mind that if you are looking for a quick fix, the Bates Method is probably not for you.
Computer Screens Are a Common Cause of Eye Strain
Many people these days spend a large portion of their days staring at computer screens of varying sizes, and this is a major source of eye strain and fatigue. A recent Epoch Times article24 offers a number of common-sense suggestions for minimizing computer-related eye strain, and All About Vision25 also lists helpful ways to protect your eyes when working in front of a screen. Some of these suggestions include the following:
- Prevent screen glare by installing an anti-glare screen on your monitor, or a computer hood if you have large open windows causing glare on your screen. Darker colored walls with a matte finish are also preferable to bright white walls
- Optimize your lighting by making sure your screen is the brightest thing in the room. According to All About Vision, "when you use a computer your ambient lighting should be about half as bright as that typically found in most offices"
- Sit at least an arm's length away from your computer screen, and make sure the screen is positioned just below eye level
- Adjust the color temperature, brightness, text size, and contrast on your screen. If a website with white background glows like a light source, it's too bright. Blue light is also associated with more eye strain than orange and red wavelengths, so reducing the color temperature (the amount of blue light) of your display may be helpful
- Practice your distance vision. Every 20 minutes or so, take a break from the screen to look at something further away from you, such as across the street if you're by a window
Other Natural Strategies That Help Protect Your Vision
In my opinion, there are natural, common-sense strategies you can employ to help protect your healthy vision, starting with your diet. As discussed above, certain foods are more or less necessary for optimal vision, and can go a long way toward protecting your eyesight throughout life. Besides the suggestions detailed above, here are a few other lifestyle strategies that can help optimize your eye health.
- Quit smoking, if you currently do. Smoking ramps up free radical production throughout your body, and puts you at risk for a number of conditions rooted in chronic inflammation, including poor vision.
- Care for your cardiovascular system by getting regular exercise. High blood pressure can cause damage to the miniscule blood vessels on your retina, obstructing free blood flow. A regular, effective exercise program consisting of aerobics, Peak Fitness exercises, core building, and strength training, can go a long way toward reducing your blood pressure. It's also critical for optimizing your insulin and leptin levels.
- Avoid processed foods and added sugars, particularly fructose.26 This is another primary way to maintain optimal blood pressure. Consuming 74 grams or more per day of fructose (equal to 2.5 sugary drinks) increases your risk of having blood pressure levels of 160/100 mmHg by 77 percent.
- Normalize your blood sugar. Excessive sugar in your blood can pull fluid from the lens of your eye, affecting your ability to focus. It can also damage the blood vessels in your retina, thereby obstructing blood flow. To keep your blood sugar in a healthy range, follow my comprehensive nutrition guidelines, exercise, and avoid processed foods and excess sugar, especially fructose.
- Avoid trans fats. A diet high in trans fat appears to contribute to macular degeneration by interfering with omega-3 fats in your body. Trans fat is found in many processed foods and baked goods, including margarine, shortening, fried foods like French fries, fried chicken, and doughnuts, cookies, pastries, and crackers.
- Avoid aspartame. Vision problems are one of the many potential acute symptoms of aspartame poisoning.