(NaturalHealth365) With the graying of Americans, age-related vision problems are on the rise. According to the National Institutes of Health, 2 million people in the United States have advanced macular degeneration (the leading cause of blindness in older adults) with another 8 million people at risk. Simply put, eye health is a major health concern.
In addition, an estimated 20.5 million Americans have cataracts – a clouding of the lens of the eye that commonly affects people over 50. Fortunately, studies have shown that certain nutrients can protect your vision throughout your lifetime.
A pair of long-term clinical studies conducted by the National Eye Institute (NEI) demonstrates that certain antioxidant vitamins and minerals can lower the risk for age-related macular degeneration. Of course, you don’t have to be a senior to benefit from these protective nutrients.
Let’s take a closer look at these NEI strategies to protect eye health.
Reduce the risk of macular degeneration: A vitamin and mineral formula for eye health
The AREDS (Age-Related Eye Diseases Study) and a followup, AREDS2, were conducted to investigate the effect of a daily multivitamin supplement on the development and progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts. The studies involved 3,600 participants aged 55 to 80 – most of them with early or intermediate AMD at the time of enrollment.
In 2001, the NEI reported that its formula – which included 15 mg of beta-carotene, 250 mg of vitamin C, 400 IU of vitamin, 2 mg of copper and 80 mg of zinc – reduced the risk of the progression of macular degeneration by about 25 percent. It also reduced the risk of vision loss among those with intermediate AMD.
And, the benefits were long-lasting. In 2013, the NEI – which had continued to follow the subjects of the first AREDS study – published a report in Ophthalmology stating that those who took an AREDS formulation during the initial five-year trial were 25 to 30 percent less likely to develop advanced macular degeneration.
Macular degeneration is triggered by deposits and inflammation that damage the macula, the center of the retina at the back of the eye. The nutrients worked against age-related eye diseases by reducing the amount of inflammation and oxidative damage to the retina.
Enhanced formula for eye health created in AREDS2 study
In 2006, the NEI initiated its AREDS2 study – with a few “tweaks” to their original formula. In the intervening years since AREDS, research had shown that beta-carotene supplementation was linked with increased rates of lung cancer in smokers and ex-smokers. (No such link has been found with dietary beta-carotene, however).
To replace beta-carotene, the researchers substituted a pair of carotenoids – lutein (at 10 mg) and zeaxanthan (at 2 mg). They also added 1,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids as well.
In May 2013, the NEI reported that the participants’ risk of developing advanced AMD was 18 percent lower than that of the original AREDS subjects.
Lutein and zeaxanthan can prevent and even arrest AMD, while combating cataracts
Lutein is one of very few carotenoids (beneficial plant pigments) that are found naturally in high concentrations in the macula and lens of the eyes. (One of the others is zeaxanthin – which works with lutein to protect the eye).
A powerful antioxidant, lutein is capable of filtering out a certain amount of harmful ultraviolet light – while fighting damage resulting from free radicals from excessive UV light and “blue light” issuing from computer screens and cell phones.
In addition to fighting AMD, lutein can reduce the oxidation that causes clouding of the lens of the eye. Taking lutein has been shown to improve vision in people with cataracts.
In addition, lutein reduces eyestrain, decreases sensitivity to glare, strengthens eye tissue and sharpens vision.
If you are of mature years, it might be wise to ask your eye doctor to perform a macular pigment optical density test. This test measures amounts of lutein in the eye in order to evaluate the risk of AMD – and to determine if there is a need for supplementation.
(Note: If you are over 60, experts advise having a dilated eye exam at least once a year, as well.)
Lutein, along with zeaxanthan, is found in good supply in leafy greens and in intensely-colored orange or yellow foods. Kale – by far, the best source of lutein – contains a whopping 22 mg per cup. Spinach, collard greens, squash, Brussels sprouts, egg yolks, papaya and corn are also good sources.
Lutein and zeaxanthan are also available as supplements. As always, consult with your integrative healthcare provider before supplementing.
In addition to the AREDS nutrients, various vitamins can support eye health
Vitamin A can help protect against night blindness and dry eyes, and can be found in beef or chicken liver, eggs, butter and milk. You can obtain beta-carotene – which converts to vitamin A in the body – in carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale and butternut squash. (of course, organic varieties are best to avoid unwanted pesticides and herbicides)
Vitamin B complex can not only help reduce chronic inflammation that sets the stage for macular degeneration, but may lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid associated with retina problems. B vitamins are found in liver, legumes, soy products and whole grains. (Note: avoid eating too much soy and always select non-GMO options)
Natural health experts report that vitamin D – found in wild-caught salmon, sardines, organic eggs and fortified orange juice – may also reduce the risk of macular degeneration.
Finally, the antioxidant mineral selenium may help prevent AMD from advancing. Seafood, Brazil nuts and brown rice are good sources.
As with lutein and zeaxanthan, check with your doctor before taking these nutrients as eye health supplements.
Age-related macular degeneration and cataracts can threaten one of our most precious gifts: our eyesight. But, as the AREDS studies show, a variety of natural nutrients can offer significant protection.
Sources for this article include:
Food & Nutrition
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