Stop macular degeneration and improve vision with these 7 plant compounds
(NaturalHealth365) Macular degeneration, which affects the retina of the eye and the central field of vision, is the number one cause of vision loss in older adults.
Unfortunately, the primary cause of this vision problem is something none of us can avoid: normal aging. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), close to 2 million Americans aged 40 and older suffer from age-related macular degeneration, or ARMD – with another 7.3 million at risk for developing the condition.
Symptoms of ARMD can include blurred vision, straight lines appearing as wavy, and colors appearing washed-out. And, while Western medicine treats ARMD with injections and laser therapy, recent research has shown that a group of plant pigments called carotenoids can combat oxidative stress in the retina and slow the progression of this disease.
Preventing macular degeneration with lutein and zeaxanthin
Lutein and zeaxanthin – often discussed together because of their identical chemical formulas – are powerful antioxidants that fight ARMD in two ways. These compounds not only help to scavenge free radicals that would otherwise cause oxidative stress and damage to retinal cells, but they absorb damaging blue and ultraviolet light rays.
The importance of lutein and zeaxanthin to eye health was illustrated by an important study in which researchers found that people with the highest levels of these carotenoids demonstrated a dramatic 41 percent lower risk of ARMD.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are clearly important nutrients for eye health. But, does supplementing with these carotenoids actually help slow the course of ARMD?
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According to research, it certainly does.
In one study, taking 10 to 12 mg a day of lutein raised the density of protective pigmented cells in the retina by a whopping 175 percent. This increased macular density allows the eye to protect itself against blue and ultraviolet light.
And extensive clinical trials have shown that supplementing with lutein and zeaxanthin can improve retinal function, sharpen the ability to see colors and shapes, and improve visual acuity.
Bonus benefit: Lutein and zeaxanthin also help to recycle glutathione, the body’s most important disease-fighting antioxidant.
You can raise your dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin with organic leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, and broccoli. The carotenoids are also found in peas, carrots, corn and egg yolks.
While lutein and zeaxanthin are probably the most widely-acknowledged protective nutrients, there are five more natural plant compounds that can boost vision and help protect against ARMD.
Meso-zeaxanthin plays a supporting role in eye health
Meso-zeaxanthin – which works in conjunction with lutein and zeaxanthin – is also needed for healthy vision. In fact, protective macular pigment is composed of 50 percent lutein, 25 percent zeaxanthin and 25 percent meso-zeaxanthin – attesting to the importance of this third component.
Meso-zeaxanthin is found in the same foods – green leafy vegetables, peas, carrots and corn – as lutein and zeaxanthin, so consuming these will help raise levels of all three carotenoids.
Studies: Astaxanthin helps prevent vision loss from macular degeneration
Like lutein and zeaxanthin, astaxanthin helps to prevent retinal cells from oxidative stress and overexposure to blue and ultraviolet light.
But that’s not all.
Studies have shown that astaxanthin is particularly effective in preventing loss of vision in those with “wet” macular degeneration – a more serious form of the disease in which fluid leaks into the retina.
It also may help ward off both glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy, which occurs due to high levels of blood sugar damaging the retina.
This beneficial pinkish-reddish carotenoid – found in marine algae and the marine life that feeds on it – is responsible for the vivid pink color of flamingoes, as well as the pinkish-orange coloration of the flesh of salmon.
You can get more astaxanthin in your diet by eating wild-caught salmon, as one example.
Saffron: A brilliant yellow spice produces eye-opening results
Saffron, a kitchen spice derived from crocus flowers, has been shown to improve visual function in patients with mild to moderate ARMD who were already taking lutein and zeaxanthin.
In one study published in Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science, saffron improved the light-sensing abilities of retinal cells. And, additional studies revealed that more prolonged supplementation with saffron brought about even greater improvements.
In one highly promising study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 20 mg of saffron a day for 14 months helped patients with early ARMD improve their vision by two entire lines on a standard eye chart.
To access the benefits of saffron, add a generous pinch to soups, stews and seafood recipes.
Alpha-carotene cuts the risk of developing advanced ARMD
Like the other carotenoids, alpha-carotene protects pigmented cells of the retina from light damage.
In a very large study involving over 100,000 participants over age 50, people with the highest dietary intake of alpha-carotene had a 32 percent reduced risk of developing advanced ARMD – when compared to those with the lowest intakes.
And, alpha-carotene offers a protective benefit for smokers – who are twice as likely to develop macular degeneration as non-smokers. In one study, current smokers who ate the most foods containing alpha-carotene were found to significantly reduce their risk of developing macular degeneration.
To ramp up your alpha-carotene intake, opt for organic fruits and vegetable that are naturally orange in color – such as pumpkins, carrots, squash and tangerines.
Cyanidin-3-glucoside promotes good night vision
A type of plant pigment known as an anthocyanin, cyanidin-3-glucoside has been shown to improve night vision by promoting the function of rhodopsin, a protein found in the rod cells of the retina.
Rod cells allow for vision in very dim light – and research shows that reduced amounts of them are associated with night blindness.
You can find this beneficial plant pigment in vividly colored red, blue and purple fruits – particularly in organic plums, pomegranates, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. Note: if you are interested in supplementing with vision-enhancing nutrients, check first with an experienced, integrative physician.
The ability of these seven natural nutrients to protect, preserve and improve vision – and to slow the progression of ARMD – is truly impressive.
While some compounds, like saffron, seem to be effective against early age-related macular degeneration, others – such as alpha-carotene – show potential for protecting against advanced forms of the disease.
But, these natural, non-toxic plant compounds all have one thing in common. They can help you “arm” yourself against ARMD – and help preserve sharp, clear, youthful vision for years to come.
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