It’s easy to take our eyes for granted. They don’t require much maintenance, and even for those who don’t have 20/20 vision, corrective lenses are an easy fix.
But there are other vision health problems that can develop, especially as we get older. They range from the merely annoying—such as dry, irritated eyes—to serious, vision-impairing diseases like macular degeneration. Fortunately, there are easy, natural ways to help prevent and treat common vision health concerns.
Antioxidants Promote Vision Health
The leading cause of blindness in older people is age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which results in the loss of central vision and the ability to see fine details. AMD is primarily triggered by a lifetime of free-radical damage, so the best way to protect your vision health is to make sure your eyes have an abundant supply of targeted antioxidants.
Scientists discovered years ago that taking a daily supplement containing relatively high daily doses of the following nutrients lowers risk of AMD and related vision loss:
- Vitamin C: 1,000–1,500 mg
- Vitamin E: 300–400 IU
- Beta-carotene: 15,000–25,000 IU
- Zinc: 50–80 mg
- Copper: 4–6 mg
But nutritional research has gone far beyond these basic vitamins and minerals. And much of the latest science has focused on a handful of phytonutrients.
Phytonutrients Provide Powerful Vision Health Protection
Phytonutrients are health-promoting organic components found primarily in plants. The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin scavenge free radicals in the retina and absorb damaging wavelengths of light. Leafy greens, such as kale and spinach, contain both of these protective compounds. Egg yolks are another good source.
Anthocyanosides are strong antioxidants for vision health because they strengthen blood vessels and improve ocular blood flow. The best dietary sources are bilberry, black currant and other dark berries.
Few people get therapeutic doses of these phytonutrients from diet alone—a serving of leafy greens, for example, has only about 1 mg of lutein. For optimal vision health protection, you need to take them in supplement form. I strongly suggest you use a product targeting vision support that contains 15 mg of lutein, 2 mg of zeaxanthin, and the anthocyansosides mentioned above.
Cataracts Aren’t Inevitable
Cataracts, or opacities of the lens of the eye, are another common vision health problem associated with aging. More than half of all Americans in their 80s either have cataracts or have had surgery to replace the clouded lens.
I’m not going to knock cataract surgery because people see much, much better afterward. But isn’t prevention a better idea?
First, make some lifestyle changes to eliminate the factors linked with increased risk of developing cataracts and other vision health problems. These include:
- Abdominal obesity
Nutrition is also important for vision health. Not surprisingly, the same nutrients that protect against AMD have also been shown to help stave off cataracts.
One study found that older women who had the highest levels of lutein and zeaxanthin were about a third less likely to have cataracts. And in a more recent placebo-controlled clinical trial, people who took a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement for nine years were much less likely to have developed the most common type of cataracts than those who took a placebo.
Another vision health therapy worth trying is N-acetyl-carnosine. Free-radical damage isn’t the only thing going on in cataract formation. Advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs), caused by the crosslinking of proteins, is another degenerative process that damages the lens.
Carnosine is a natural amino acid combo that inhibits AGE formation. Several studies show that when carnosine eye drops are used twice a day in eyes affected by cataracts, improvements are often noted in both vision and lens opacity. Look for these drops online and in health-food stores.
Say Goodbye to Dry, Irritated Eyes
Most of us occasionally experience a dry sensation in the eyes, but for millions it’s a daily occurrence. Caused by a decline in tear production or quality, this vision health concern is particularly prevalent among older individuals.
Lubricating eye drops, or artificial tears, may soothe dry eyes, but they do little to address the underlying vision health condition. Two of the processes at work in dry eyes are inflammation and free-radical damage.
To curb inflammation, eat salmon and other cold-water fish on a regular basis and take a minimum of 2,000 mg of fish oil daily. Harvard researchers found that women with the highest intake of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids had a substantially reduced risk of dry eyes.
To fight free radicals, I recommend VIVA Eye Drops from Corneal Science. In addition to being preservative-free, this product contains Vitamin A and other antioxidants that improve the normal tear film and help heal the epithelial cells on the surface of the cornea.
In one study, people with dry eyes used one or two drops of VIVA in one eye and artificial tears in the other several times a day for four months. Improvements were reported in 61 percent of the eyes treated with VIVA compared to 15 percent of the eyes treated with artificial tears.
These eye drops are also helpful for red, irritated eyes. I do not recommend drops that promise to get the red out. Overuse of them may result in dilation of the blood vessels, making the eyes even redder. VIVA drops are available online and in some health-food and drug stores.
Solutions for Other Common Vision Health Concerns
Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve characterized by increased pressure in the eyes. If this condition is not addressed, it can cause permanent vision loss. Common treatments are drugs and surgery, but studies suggest that several natural agents can reduce pressures in patients with glaucoma.
The best studied is high-dose Vitamin C (1,000–1,500 mg), but Ginkgo biloba (60 mg daily), bilberry (320 mg daily) and magnesium (500–1,000 mg daily) also appear to be helpful for treating this vision health concern.
Night vision often falters as we get older, making driving after dark a chore. Many of my patients with this vision health concern tell me their night vision improved after they started taking a supplement containing most of the nutrients I mentioned earlier. This isn’t surprising. Anthocyanosides, in particular, have been demonstrated to enhance light/dark adaptation and improve night vision—in fact, studies show that black currant, specifically, can do this within just 30 minutes!
The Bottom Line
Whether you want to treat an existing eye problem or maintain your vision health, the best thing to do is improve your diet and take a comprehensive supplement aimed at supporting vision health.