Before talking about how nutrition may help "age-proof" your eyes, let's discuss eye health in general.
According to the World Health Organization, 75 percent of the world's blindness is preventable. But, in order to prevent the serious eye diseases that cause vision loss and blindness, early detection is vital, and to complicate matters more, serious eye diseases have no warning signs.
Considering that UV damage caused by the sun is one of the leading contributors to macular degeneration, it is important for all adults at any age to get yearly eye exams. Few people visit an eye doctor unless they have symptoms, and by then the damage has most likely already occurred.
The most important thing that you can do to prevent eye disease and vision loss is to have a comprehensive eye exam every year. Simple eye tests that only check for prescription changes will not necessarily detect major eye disease. A comprehensive eye exam should include: eye muscle tests, visual field tests, glaucoma tests, slit-lamp examination, retinal examinations and pupil dilation. Anyone age 50 and over needs to make sure to ask for a dilated eye exam. As we age, the higher the risk becomes of developing several age-related eye diseases including: Age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, or glaucoma.
Throughout our life it is imperative to protect our eyes by wearing UV and HEV blocking sunglasses and hats, getting regular exercise, avoid smoking and being around smoke, maintaining a normal weight, (being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing diabetes and other systemic conditions which can lead to vision loss), normal blood pressure, and keeping blood sugar levels controlled if a diabetic or pre-diabetic, wearing safety glasses where indicated, giving eyes a breather from contacts to prevent lack of oxygen to the eye and washing your hands, and taking proper care of contacts to prevent bacteria from collecting, giving eyes a rest from computer screens ( 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes look away about 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds), watching for symptoms such as flashes of light, pain or floaters; not ignoring symptoms and calling the eye doctor immediately for an exam.
And now for what I referred to at the beginning of this article: watching what you eat.
A poor diet can lead to inflammation and increase your risk of cataracts, macular degeneration and other problems. You need to limit your calories and eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and fish.
Some foods such as blueberries can actually promote eye health. Eat a variety of foods high in key antioxidants. Spinach, kale, brussel sprouts, collard greens, and eggs are good sources of two antioxidants: lutein and zeaxanthin. These two nutrients are the building blocks of the eye as they filter out certain wavelengths of light, help maintain the integrity of cells in the eye, and reduce oxidative stress.
Fish oil is also important to eye health; studies have shown it can delay or slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration and decreases inflammation, thereby protecting the eye. The antioxidant combination of beta-carotene, vitamin C and E, zinc, and copper is available in a variety of eye-health formulas. Research has also shown that B vitamins may also help to protect against glaucoma.
I would encourage everyone to take a vitamin containing these nutrients to maintain eye health, get regular checkups and take good care of their eyes. If you or someone you care about are experiencing visual loss the Chautauqua Blind Association is a great resource to get connected with. They can offer valuable education, home adaptation, equipment and show you all the wonderful gadgets available now to help make living with vision loss easier for the individual. Remember that if cooking is a problem we have an excellent Senior Nutrition Program at Office for the Aging.
Please remember to contribute toward your OFA nutrition services if you can. These programs are not sustainable at current levels without the support of participant contributions. Be aware that food stamps can be used toward your contribution. I do not want to have to make any further cuts to nutrition services. Thank you for your support.
Chautauqua County Office for the Aging Senior Nutrition Program provides nutritious noon meals at several Congregate Dining Sites throughout the county along with a Restaurant Dining Out Program. Our dietitian, Cheryl Walhstrom, RD, is available for nutrition counseling in your home at no cost to you. We also sponsor several exercise programs. Call the office for more details and information at 753-4471, 661-7471 or 363-4471.