They say that you are what you eat. Like any aspect of the body, whether it’s the state of your joints, your brain, your digestion, or your eye health, a healthy and balanced lifestyle plays an important role in warding off disease and even the effects of ageing that some may think are inevitable. And though we can’t eat good vision, we can ensure our diet contains all the vital nutrients and compounds that our bodies need to maintain optimal eye health and the sharpest possible sight.
The concept of eye health can be divided into two broad categories – vision, and comfort. Though your vision may be perfectly clear, your eye health can be considered to be suboptimal if your eyes constantly feel dry and irritated. Conversely, if you’ve never suffered an itchy eye in your life but your sight is progressively deteriorating due to macular degeneration, eye health would unquestionably be considered a concern.
Foods for Eye Health
While some eye diseases can be treated with medicine and medical technology, prevention is often better than cure, with eye health being no different. Though nutritional supplements are readily available off the shelf, they are generally not considered to be a substitute for a healthy diet of real food. Here are a few key components to healthy foods for eye health.
Various studies have been conducted on the intake of omega-3 and how it impacts both aspects of eye health – the most well-known researches considered omega-3 in the treatment of dry eye and in the prevention of age-related macular degeneration.
Omega-3 has been found to improve a specific underlying cause of dry eye disease known as meibomian gland dysfunction by reducing inflammation and improving secretions of sebum from these glands. Because of its anti-inflammatory action, omega-3 may also have the potential to reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration as this blinding eye disease is known to have underlying inflammatory factors.
Great sources of omega-3 to boost your eye health can be found in fatty freshwater fish such as mackerel, salmon, and sardines, as well as oysters, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and if you’re feeling fancy, caviar.
Vitamins A, E, and C
Vitamins with antioxidant effects, such as vitamins A, E, and C, have been shown to provide significant benefits to eye health, including reducing the risk of developing cataract. Vitamins E and C can further boost eye health with benefits to the macula, an anatomical part of the retina that detects central vision.
Vitamin A plays an important role in eye health as it is a crucial component of the rod photoreceptors in the retina, which detect light in low-lighting conditions.
Though vitamin A deficiency is very rare in developed countries, those with severe deficiency often develop night blindness.
Vitamin A deficiency is also associated with dry eye, which can lead to damage to the cornea, compromised vision, and poor eye health.
In a form known as beta-carotene, vitamin A was found to contribute reduced risk of macular degeneration – alongside zinc and copper, these three vitamins comprised the original AREDS (Age-Related Eye Disease Study) nutritional supplement found to reduce the likelihood of progressive age-related macular degeneration in at-risk patients.
Though a nutritional supplement is convenient to help boost eye health, natural food sources are always better. Antioxidant-rich foods for eye health include citrus fruits, almonds, sweet potatoes, salmon, avocado, broccoli, and kale.
In the same study that looked at the benefits of beta-carotene (vitamin A), vitamins C and E for eye health, two carotenoid pigments known as lutein and zeaxanthin were also found to confer a protective effect against age-related macular degeneration. These carotenoid compounds are found at high levels within the retina of the eye and help to protect the retinal cells from oxidative stress and resultant damage to overall eye health and vision.
As a follow-up to the original AREDS clinical trials, the AREDS2 investigations found that beta-carotene supplementation increased the risk of lung cancer in former smokers. Though lutein and zeaxanthin did not provide any superior benefits to eye health compared to beta-carotene in the AREDS nutritional supplement, it was found to be just as good but without the lung cancer risk. The current AREDS2 formulation therefore includes vitamins C and E, zinc, copper, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
Good food sources of carotenoids for eye health include vegetables and fruit of dark green, yellow, red, or orange colour, such as capsicums, kale, spinach, melons, and corn. Egg yolks are also a great source of lutein and zeaxanthin.
Low Glycaemic Index Foods
Carbohydrates with a low glycaemic index (GI) have been shown to support good eye health by lowering the risk of macular degeneration. Those who have a diet of low GI foods also tend to be healthier overall, including having a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Low GI foods include wholegrain cereals and breads, soy, fruits, and legumes.
It is important to understand that the eye is an extremely complex organ, and good eye health is unfortunately not as straightforward as simply “eating healthy foods for eye health”. Individuals who adhere to the strictest of diets, exercise regularly, and follow all the doctor’s orders may still experience eye disease, as many conditions also are driven by genetic factors.
Our understanding of eye diseases and foods for eye health continues to evolve with ongoing medical research and though we still do not fully understand how nutrition affects the eyes and vision, this list is a good place to start.
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