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Nutritionals in the Aging Eye

What foods are best for optimum eyesight?

A diet that emphasizes fish, nuts and dark green leafy vegetables; especially those rich in lutein, zeaxanthin and carotenoids like carrots, kale, spinach, broccoli, corn, peas, tomatoes, dark lettuce, turnip, collard and mustard greens, squash and pumpkin. Oranges and tangerines are good as well.

Do these foods also help prevent eye disease?

Medical researchers have devoted many years looking at the relationship between nutrition and age related eye diseases; most notably macular degeneration and cataracts. The impact of diet on the development and severity of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the more significant. AMD causes almost half of all cases of vision loss in people over 40. Its prevalence increases again for people over 60 and significantly climbs again for people over 80. 1,750,000 Americans have AMD.

What is macular and why does it degenerate?

The macula is the central area of the retina where perception of fine detail occurs. Constant exposure to high frequency light waves (blue and ultra-violet) damages macula cells. The prolific cellular activity in the eye requires optimal blood flow for oxygenation, nourishment and repair as well as efficient lymphatic removal of metabolic waste. Blood and lymph vessels in the macula are very small and fragile, extremely sensitive to abnormalities such as swelling and leakage, a condition associated with elevated blood sugar from excessive carbohydrates. Obstructions in vessels cause blood flow problems and impede removal of metabolic waste; a condition associated with cholesterol from processed foods containing mono and polyunsaturated fats.

What can I eat to help prevent Macular Degeneration?

There are two chemicals highly concentrated in the macula that help protect it from premature deterioration - lutein and zeaxanthin.

Foods rich in these two nutrients are led by kale and spinach. Broccoli, corn and peas contain them but in lesser amounts per serving.

Is that why I’m seeing advertisements for ‘new’ eye vitamins emphasizing lutein and zeaxanthin?

Yes. The first Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS1) in 2001 evaluated a supplement with Vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, zinc and copper. The results touted a significant link to risk reduction of moderate to advanced macular degeneration but did not affect the probability of developing AMD.

A second study (AREDS2), concluding in December, 2012 uses a supplement with lutein, zeaxanthin and omega-3 oils (DHA + EPA). Preliminary results show this combination does lower onset risk as well as significantly reduces the probability of a patient’s moderate macular degeneration progressing to an advanced stage of severity.

Why buy supplements? Can’t people just eat the foods you recommend?

Effective nutritional supplements are important for age related diseases because our nutrient absorption efficacy through food decreases as we age. The high concentrations of lutein and zeaxanthin in the macula also decline with age, so supplements with lutein, zeaxanthin and omega-3 oils are especially valuable for seniors as well as AMD patients and those with a family history of the disease.

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