Nutrients for Excellent Eye Health

Laura_Brieser-SmithVision is something we often take for granted, that is until we start to lose it.  The leading cause of irreversible blindness in people over 65 is the eye disorder macular degeneration.  With macular degeneration, the macula of the eye located in the center of the retina begins to deteriorate.  The macula is responsible for clear, focused vision.  Consequently, when this starts to deteriorate the center of the visual field is lost.  The major cause of macular degeneration is oxidative damage.  When the retina is exposed to oxygen, the fatty acids located there may become damaged, very similarly to what happens in heart disease.   The good news is that there are many nutrients we that keep our eyes healthy.

The first line of defense for our eyes comes in the form of carotenoids, substances that provide color to fruits and vegetables.  These pigments act as antioxidants and protect the macula from damage and may even be able to repair mild damage that has already occurred.  The most important carotenoids for eye health are lutein and zeaxanthin.  These pigments are found in high concentrations in the eye and are very important for filtering out the blue portion of UV light that is the most damaging.  Many research studies have shown that consuming more carotenoids from foods can reduce the risk of macular degeneration by as much as 70%.  While some supplements may contain lutein, the best way to get them is from foods.  Scientists are not certain exactly how effective supplements are, and are also not sure if lutein by itself works as well as it does when combined with zeaxanthin and other carotenoids found naturally in foods.  You should aim to consume 5-20 mg per day, and can easily get that by eating ½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw dark green leafy vegetable, such as kale, collard greens, and spinach.  Other foods that provide modest amounts of lutein are corn, broccoli, zucchini, peas, Brussels sprouts, and persimmons.

Other nutrients that play a role in keeping eyes healthy are vitamins E and C.  Both of these act as antioxidants and also help lutein and zeaxanthin to be more effective.   Zinc is also important for protecting the eyes against damage.  Finally, the types of fats you eat can either harm or help your eyes.  Saturated fats may increase the inflammation in eyes and lead to macular degeneration.  Because saturated fats are found primarily in foods from animal origin, such as the fat found in meats, butter, and lard, it is best to consume these in moderation.  Omega-3 fats, on the other hand, have just the opposite action and will reduce inflammation and improve eye health.   The best food sources of these fats are fatty fishes, flax seeds, and walnuts.  Just two servings of fatty fish throughout the course of the week will do the trick.


Laura Brieser-Smith, MPH, RD, CHFS is the owner of Healthy Designs, LLC which provides nutrition counseling and personal training to clients in their homes or offices.  She can be reached at 303-635-1131 or at hlthydsign@aol.com.

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