Monday, May 12, 2008

Vision Care: How to Keep Your Eyes Healthy for Life

Fresh Swiss chardImage via WikipediResearch has indicated that people who have ample antioxidants in their blood have reduced risk of developing macular degeneration and cataracts. What are antioxidants? They're found in fruits and vegetables and they "mop up" unstable oxygen molecules in your blood known as free radicals, which prevents cellular damage. They're good for your general health, but one group of antioxidants in particular -- carotenoids -- is especially good for your eyes. In fact, some people have even use the term "eye vitamins" for these beneficial nutrients.

The best sources of carotenoids are brightly colored fruits and vegetables, and carrots are especially high in the carotenoid called beta-carotene. Beta-carotene can be converted into vitamin A, which helps you have healthy night vision. If you lack vitamin A, it takes much longer for your eyes to adjust to a change in light.

Recent research suggests that the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are found in dark green, leafy vegetables, are even more powerful than beta-carotene for eye health because they are the only carotenoids that concentrate specifically in the eye tissues. Spinach, kale, broccoli, Swiss chard and collard greens contain such high levels of lutein and zeaxanthin that adding these vegetables to your diet can reduce the risk of developing cataracts by up to 23 percent, and cut the risk of developing macular degeneration in half.

Cranberries are also an excellent source of another type of powerful antioxidant, bioflavonoids, which help protect the lens of the eye as well as strengthen the collagen-rich structures of the eye, such as the cornea and capillaries. Bioflavonoids are also found in blueberries, grapes (all but the green variety), citrus fruits and bilberries. Although bilberries may not be on your typical shopping list, they have an exceptionally high bioflavonoid content. In fact, during World War II, British fighter pilots ate bilberries before going on nightly bombing raids because their night vision improved as a result. That's why bilberry is often found in supplements for eye health.

Some of the nutrients in cold water fish, such as salmon, mackerel and cod, can also be of benefit to your eyes. They're rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower eye pressure and promote circulation of blood to the eye. Fish also contains taurine, which helps regenerate retinal tissues, and helps protect the eyes from ultraviolet radiation.

Of course, nothing replaces a well-balanced diet, but you might want to consider taking supplements to help ensure you’re giving your eyes all the nutrition they need. Supplements that contain lutein and zeaxanthin are readily available; just be sure to choose a one that contains an effective level of lutein (about 3-6mg per day). And antioxidant vitamins such as C an E, as well as alpha lipoic acid, may be especially useful for protecting delicate eye structures from damage and promoting the repair process. A major antioxidant enzyme, glutathione, may be effective in preventing cataract formation, and is helpful in possibly altering free radical damage.

Just remember: Eating right and taking supplements won’t help much if you compromise your eye health by spending too much time in the sun or smoking. It's commonly known that sun bathers and smokers have to worry about preventative skin care. But did you know they also have an increased risk of developing cataracts and impaired vision? That doesn't have to be a problem for you though. Studies show that stopping smoking and limiting sun exposure can have significant benefits at any age.

You might also be interested in this other vision care article: Bilberry for Your Eyes

NOTE: The information in this article is not meant to take the place of professional medical advice. Check with your doctor before making decisions on any vision care supplement.

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