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Setting Your Sights on Eye Health

By on January 22, 2017
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We don’t spend much time thinking about the health of our eyes. Diabetes, heart disease and cancer tend to take the spotlight and most of our attention when it comes to major health concerns. However, according to experts, rates of blindness and vision loss are on the rise in Canada.  Protecting eye health now can help ensure sight for a high-quality of life well into the golden years.

What are the factors that can damage the eyes?
There are a variety of factors in our modern world that can be harmful to our eyes and overall health. UV light from the sun is likely one factor that most people consider when thinking about their skin health but it can also be very damaging to any part of the eye that UV light touches. The blue light from digital devices is also something we need to be aware of. Most people spend a large part of their day in front of a computer, tablet or smart phone. Early research shows that too much exposure to this type of light could, over time, damage retinal cells of the eye contributing to premature aging of the eye. Vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and omega-3 fatty acids all play a role in protecting eye health. However, a typical North American diet, which is low in nutrient density, high in sugar and highly processed, will deplete levels of helpful nutrients in our bodies. With age comes more exposure to the factors that damage our eyes as well as decreased ability to absorb vital nutrients from the food we eat. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind estimates that the number of people living with blindness or partial vision loss is expected to double in the next 25 years.

How can we protect the eyes?
The structures of the eye can be very delicate and susceptible to damage. Because of this, the eye contains high levels of antioxidants for protection. Poor diets may impede our ability to produce, store and utilize antioxidants. So, eating a variety of fruits and vegetables of many colours and avoiding sugar and processed foods can be very protective for your eyes. 

Getting a regular eye exam is important too! Research shows that 75% of all vision loss can be prevented or treated if detected early enough. Most Canadians however are not getting regular eye checks. Eye care experts recommend comprehensive eye exams every 1 to 2 years, regardless if you wear corrective lenses or not. Supplementing your diet and lifestyle with high quality antioxidants and nutrients specific to eye health is also helpful. Vitamin C and E are needed to keep our body tissues healthy and strong, while zinc helps to protect the sensory part of your eye. Antioxidants protect our eyes from damage and omega-3s will help fight off damaging inflammation. 

Science and Eye Health Supplements
The AREDS (Age Related Eye Disease Study) research group, demonstrated that a combination of antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, along with vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc slowed the progression of age related macular degeneration (AMD). In the study 3500 subjects from the ages of 55-80, who had been diagnosed with some AMD related visual dysfunction were followed for 6 years. Those taking the antioxidant supplement had a 25% risk reduction for developing AMD. 

So What Exactly are Lutein and Zeaxanthin?
Lutein and zeaxanthin are macular carotenoids and antioxidants, which work together to protect the eye from free radical damage. They act to absorb and filter blue light exposure, which is the most damaging of light waves. As humans we are not able to make lutein and zeaxanthin in our bodies so we must obtain them from our diet or supplementation. Eggs, leafy green vegetables, broccoli, peppers, zucchini, peas and brussel sprouts are good food sources. In addition to eating well and getting regular eye exams, taking a supplement that includes lutein and zeaxanthin is a good way to protect your eyes as you age.

Blindness on the Rise in Canada. (May 22, 2013) Retrieved from http://news.nationalpost.com/health/vision/blindness-on-the-rise-in-canada

Zampatti S, Ricci F, Cusumano A, Marsella LT, Novelli G, Giardina E. Review of nutrient actions on age-related macular degeneration. Nutr Res. 2014 Feb;34(2):95-105. 

Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 Research Group. Lutein + zeaxanthin and omega-3 fatty acids for age-related macular degeneration: the Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2013 May 15;309(19):2005-15.

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