Aging is inevitable, but are age-related problems such as poor vision absolute givens? Contrary to popular belief, your vision is largely dependent on your lifestyle. Nourishing your eyes with appropriate nutrients throughout the years can go a long way toward maintaining good eyesight well into your senior years.
Moreover, even if your eyesight has started to deteriorate, evidence suggests you can stop the deterioration. You may even be able to turn back the clock, as it were, and improve your vision.
Foods Can Protect and Improve Your Eyesight
In a recent BBC article, Dr. Michael Mosley discusses his own vision problems and his experiences with nutritional intervention, featured in an episode of the BBC program “Trust Me, I’m a Doctor,” aired on September 8, 2016.
The shape and length of your eyeballs and the thickness of your eye lens affect your ability to see things close-up and at a distance. Your retina, located at the back of your eye, also contains light-sensitive cells that are critical for good vision.
Your macula — the part of your retina responsible for central vision — is protected by a yellow pigment, made up of lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin. These compounds absorb light and protect your macula from blue light and ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun and other light sources
Lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin are plant compounds with potent antioxidant capacities. Your body cannot make them, so you must get them from your diet. As noted by the BBC:
“Lutein and zeaxanthin are found commonly in dark green leafy veg such as kale and spinach, and also bell peppers, corn and saffron. Meso-zeaxanthin is generally not found in plants — it is thought to be made in our bodies from lutein (although it is also present in some fish … )
These pigments, once we eat them, appear to be important in our vision and in helping keep the macula healthy.”
Lutein and Zeaxanthin Supplements Can Make a Big Difference
Mosley describes undergoing a number of extensive vision tests designed to evaluate the health of his retina, his ability to see colors, night vision and the level of protection his macula had against UV and blue light.
“The results of my tests were both fascinating and depressing. My detection of yellow and blue colors was extremely poor — something that [Professor John] Barbur said was likely the result of my brush with diabetes many years ago,”Mosley writes.
My night vision and perception of details were also poor compared with younger people — but consistent with my age. The Trust Me team then handed me a 90-day supply of supplement pills that were supposed to help.”
The supplements in question contained lutein and zeaxanthin. Three months later, follow-up tests revealed remarkable improvement. Not only was his night vision and protective macular pigments improved, but his blue and yellow color perception was now within the normal range.
Some studies suggest these nutrients may also slow down or prevent age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), which is the leading cause of blindness among the elderly, followed by cataracts.
How Much Lutein and Zeaxanthin Do You Need?
While there’s no recommended daily intake for lutein and zeaxanthin, studies have found health benefits for lutein at a dose of 10 milligrams (mg) per day, and at 2 mg per day for zeaxanthin. Meanwhile, studies suggest American adults get, on average, only 1 to 2 mg of lutein from their diet each day.
Research evaluating the effect of lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin in combination, using a dose of 10 mg of lutein, 10 mg of meso-zeaxanthin and 2 mg of zeaxanthin per day for one year, found it helped improve vision in those who had normal vision at the outset.
“Should we all, then, be taking supplements to protect and even improve our eyesight? Well, the research certainly shows that supplements work,” Mosley writes.
“Even for someone like me, who has a relatively healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, and whose blood levels of the compounds that weren’t particularly low, the supplements helped. However, some researchers believe that diet can simply be enough, if we eat the right things.”
What Should You Eat to Protect or Improve Your Vision?
Lutein and zeaxanthin are primarily found in green leafy vegetables, with kale and spinach topping the list of lutein-rich foods. You’ll also find these nutrients in orange- and yellow-colored fruits and vegetables.
According to one 1998 study, orange pepper had the highest amount of zeaxanthin of the 33 fruits and vegetables tested. According to the authors:
“Most of the dark green leafy vegetables, previously recommended for a higher intake of lutein and zeaxanthin, have 15 [to] 47 percent of lutein, but a very low content (0 to 3 percent) of zeaxanthin.
Our study shows that fruits and vegetables of various colors can be consumed to increase dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin.”
Egg yolk is another good source of both lutein and zeaxanthin, along with healthy fat and protein, and while the total amount of carotenoids is lower than many vegetables, they’re in a highly absorbable, nearly ideal form.
According to a study published last year, adding a couple of eggs to your salad can also increase the carotenoid absorption from the whole meal as much as nine-fold!
Eggs from free-range, pastured hens have bright orange yolks, which is an indication of their elevated lutein and zeaxanthin content. Dull, pale yellow yolks are a sure sign you’re getting eggs form caged hens fed an unnatural grain diet, and hence will have low amounts of these valuable nutrients.
How Much Lutein Can You Get From Your Foods?
Following is a list of lutein-rich foods. Most of these also contain zeaxanthin, albeit in lesser quantities than lutein. Ideally, you’ll want to consume these foods as close to raw as possible.
Once you heat spinach or egg yolks, for example, the lutein and zeaxanthin become damaged and will not perform as well in preventing degeneration of your macula. Accessory micronutrients in the foods that enhance their action also tend to get easily damaged.
Lutein Content of Foods
In related news, higher intakes of vitamin C have been shown to prevent cataracts, the second leading cause of vision loss.According to the National Eye Institute, more than half of all Americans end up getting cataracts by the time they’re 80.Vitamin C Combats Cataracts
The study,which compared vitamin C intake and the progression of cataracts in more than 320 pairs of female twins over the course of a decade, found that those who ate more vitamin C-rich foods lowered their risk of cataracts by one-third. Interestingly, vitamin C supplements were not associated with a reduction in risk.
Citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruits are well-known for being high in vitamin C, but the fruit with the highest concentration of all is actually acerola cherries (also known as Barbados cherries.) They are not as sweet as a regular cherry but about the same size.
Each cherry only has 1 calorie but 80 mg of vitamin C and the associated micronutrients. I have two of these trees in my front yard and for months I am able to gather 50 to 70 cherries a day. It is by far my favorite and healthiest fruit.
Animal-Based Omega-3 Lowers Risk of Blindness in Diabetics
Another recent study found that diabetics who routinely ate 500 mg of omega-3-rich fish (two servings per week) reduced their risk of diabetic retinopathy by an impressive 48 percent.Diabetic retinopathy is a serious complication or side effect of type 2 diabetes that occurs when blood flow to your retina is reduced. It’s the most common cause of blindness in diabetics.
This significant risk reduction was primarily attributed to lower inflammation levels. Animal-based omega-3 fats also provide structural support to cell membranes that boost eye health and protect retinal function. Earlier research has shown that those with the highest intake of animal-based omega-3 fats have a 60 percent lower risk of advanced macular degeneration compared to those who consume the least.
A 2009 study also found that those with the highest consumption of omega-3 fats were 30 percent less likely to progress to the advanced form of the disease over a 12-year period, and a second study published in 2009 found that those with diets high in omega-3 fats along with vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, lutein and zeaxanthin, had a lower risk of macular degeneration.