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Let’s face it: we live in a world designed for sight. That’s why it can be unnerving when our vision starts to fade.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts are the leading cause of irreversible vision loss and legal blindness in Canada. Cataracts affect more than 3.5 million people and AMD affects more than 1.5 million people! And, because our population is ageing, these numbers are expected to double in the next 25 years.
The good news is that the choices you make today can set you up for healthy eyes tomorrow. Proper medical intervention and management can help lessen the risk of these conditions, and this includes natural supplements that help support the delicate tissues in the eye.
Vitamin A plays a vital role in vision and eye health but it’s not the only important antioxidant. Vitamins C and E also provide antioxidant support. And because oxidative stress is associated with vision loss, a full spectrum of antioxidant support is ideal, including water-soluble and fat-soluble antioxidants to help protect all parts of cells and tissues in the eyes.
Zinc is another important antioxidant and is essential for healing and healthy growth and development. Low levels of zinc have been linked to an increased risk of eye disease, including AMD, while supplemental zinc has been associated with a reduced risk of vision loss and improvements in contrast sensitivity and visual acuity.
Bilberry jam – along with carrots – is credited for boosting the night vision of WWII Royal Air Force pilots. Bilberries and blueberries are packed with potent antioxidants known as anthocyanins and are used in herbal medicine to help slow the progression of disorders of the eye, such as diabetic and hypertensive retinopathy and macular degeneration.
Lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin are the major carotenoid pigments found in human eye tissues called the macula and retina. These pigments filter blue light, which helps reduce the risk of light-induced oxidative damage that could lead to AMD, cataracts, and other eye problems.
Population studies and clinical research strongly suggest that a higher intake of lutein may reduce the risk of AMD. One clinically studied formula, Lutemax, combines lutein and zeaxanthin naturally sourced from marigold extract. This extract has been associated with significant increases in macular pigment optical density (MPOD), suggesting improved protection against harmful blue light.
In another study, researchers looked at the benefits of Lutemax in healthy young adults exposed to six or more hours of near-field screen time each day.
The participants taking Lutemax 2020 daily for six months had significant improvements in MPOD as well as improved overall sleep quality, fewer headaches, and reduced eye strain and eye fatigue, and showed improvements in all visual performance measures compared to the placebo group.
The omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is highly concentrated in the retina, suggesting a functional role in vision health. In one study, researchers found that those who ate fish – a major source of DHA – had a reduced risk for the age-related macular degeneration (AMD) known as “wet” AMD.
DHA and its fellow long-chain omega-3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) appear to help thwart oxidative damage to the retina and have also been seen to help with symptoms of dry eye. This seems to be because they decrease the rate of tear evaporation and increase tear secretion.
In a large placebo-controlled double-blind trial, computer workers taking 360 mg of EPA and 240 mg of DHA daily for three months had significant improvement in symptoms of dry eye syndrome.
A combination of lutein and omega-3 has also been shown to support eye health, especially in conjunction with bilberry. In one study, a combination of lutein (17.5 mg), omega-3 fatty acids (docosahexaenoic acid 783 mg and eicosapentaenoic acid 162 mg), and bilberry extract (59 mg), taken daily for four weeks, was associated with reduced symptoms of eye strain compared to placebo.
To learn more about your eye health, visit a doctor of optometry.
Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT
Leigh Matthews is a health and wellness writer specializing in plant-based nutrition and environmental health.