Nutrition and your eyes

There is a very old saying that goes something along the line of: “If you eat your carrots you will have good eyes,” or the more famous one: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away!”

In this month’s newsletter, you can read all about nutrition for your eye health. April is Health Awareness month across the world and we will be focusing on a few interesting eye health facts and eye care tips for you. Often, we forget that our eyes play a very important role in our general health. The reasons for this is that most of the time our eyes are being neglected and could be a contributing factor in symptoms like headaches, neck and back pain.

At De Jongh Optometry we strive to give our patients not only the best clinical care but also excellent quality products and service. Value is not about how much you pay, but about what you get for the money you pay. We only stock high quality products while ensuring that we offer various options to suit our patients’ budget.

Nutrition and the health of your eyes

According to a certified nutrition specialist there is an amazing science behind nutrition in the body. A free radical usually is an oxygen molecule that self-stabilises by taking an electron from another molecule, which in turn tries to take an electron from another molecule, and so on. Free radicals damage the body by stealing electrons from the healthy cells of organs and other tissues – a process called oxidation.

In the eye, oxidation affects proteins and fats in the lens to the extent that the lens becomes damaged and cloudy, creating a cataract. Preventing free radical damage with healthy foods, particularly those containing antioxidants, may help slow down this process.

Free radicals that damage our eyes and the rest of the body may originate from eating unhealthy foods, exposure to pollution or chemicals, smoking and ultraviolet radiation. Some free radicals occur from normal daily metabolism, which means even people who don’t have these risk factors need the antioxidants found in healthy foods.

Here is a quick guide to healthy foods that have a positive effect on your vision:

  • Vitamin A: carrots, kale, spinach, dairy products, egg yolks
  • Vitamin C: citrus fruits (especially kiwi fruit) and juices, green peppers, broccoli, potatoes
  • Vitamin E: eggs, whole grains, vegetable oils, sunflower seeds
  • Lutein: spinach, corn, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts
  • Fatty acids: fish (salmon, mackerel, rainbow trout), sunflower oil, corn oil
  • Zinc: meat, poultry, fish, whole grains, dairy products

Looking at the above, it’s definitely easier said than done… Our modern, fast-paced lifestyles has had such an effect on our diets that it is very difficult to get all the nutrients we need – taking supplements have become a big part of our daily routine. Always remember to consult your doctor or dietician when on chronic medication or if you have any systemic disorders when taking extra minerals and vitamins.

Tips for a dry eye diet

Many of our patients experience dry eye symptoms, including dryness, irritation, burning and grittiness. Dry eye is directly related to the underlying health condition of the entire body. Proper hydration of the body and regular daily intake of key nutrients can help prevent or even alleviate over time many of the symptoms of dry eyes. In general, people who eat a healthy diet of primarily fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and moderate amounts of fish show a decreased risk of all eye problems.

Here are some nutritional tips that can greatly reduce your risk for dry eye syndrome:

Pure water: Dry eye syndrome is often improved by simply drinking more water. Even though water is not typically considered a food, it is the most essential nutrient for the human body, and most people today suffer from chronic dehydration.

Omega-3 fatty acids: Essential fatty acid nutrients are responsible for producing both the watery and the oily aqueous layers of the tear film. The best food sources for essential fatty acids are fish oil and cold-water fish, such as salmon, sardines and tuna. Other good sources include flax seed oil and flax seed.

Antioxidants: Dry eye can also be caused by free radical damage – oxidative stress – in the body caused by aging, poor diet, lack of exercise and unhealthy lifestyle factors such as smoking, excess alcohol, medications and chronic stress. Healthy foods rich in antioxidants may help slow down the process of oxidation. Antioxidants are easily obtained from eating fruits and multicoloured vegetables.

Potassium and Zinc: All minerals are important for eye health, but two are especially beneficial. Potassium is usually very low in patients with dry eye. The best food sources of potassium include kelp, wheat germ, almonds, pecans, bananas, raisins, dates, figs and avocados. Zinc is a factor in the metabolic function of several enzymes in the vascular coating of the eye. A few good food sources of zinc include brewer’s yeast, fish, kelp, legumes, liver, mushrooms, sunflower seeds and whole grains.

Technology: the Slit Lamp – what is a slit lamp exam?

The slit lamp exam is usually performed using a biomicroscope during eye examinations and contact lens evaluations. We can look for any diseases or abnormalities in the anterior portion of the eye (front area), which includes the eyelids, lashes, lens, conjunctiva, cornea, and iris. The instrument can focus light into a single intense beam that shows eye structures in detail which might not be visible with the naked eye.

This is one of the image types that we can see through our Slit Lamp instrument while assessing the patient’s front area of the eye.

De Jongh Optometry - Slit Lamp Exam     De Jongh Optometry - Slit Lamp Exam Biomicroscope

Children and healthy eyes

What can I as a parent do to make sure that my children’s eye health is taken care of? Here are some suggestions:

  • Regular eye check-ups are important, especially when one of the parents or grandparents has an eye condition. A comprehensive eye examination can already be done at the age of 3 years.
  • Look out for a few critical signs that your child may present, and which can mean that there is something wrong with his/her eyes: a frequent rubbing of the eyes, blinking excessively, complaining of headaches after near task activities, turning their heads when watching television, turning of an eye – in or out, and sensitivity to light.
  • Make sure that when they have spectacles, they wear them for the purpose given by the Optometrist. For example, if your child received reading spectacles for homework, these spectacles should also be worn when working on any electronic device such as laptops, tablets, or cell phones.
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Getting adequate exercise during exam time gives the eyes a sufficient rest period.

Facts about age-related Macular Degeneration (Low Vision)

According to the National Eye Institute (USA), AMD is a common eye condition and a leading cause of vision loss among people age 50 and older. It causes damage to the macula, a small spot near the centre of the retina and the part of the eye needed for sharp, central vision, which lets us see objects that are straight ahead.

In some people, AMD advances so slowly that vision loss does not occur for a long time. In others, the disease progresses faster and may lead to a loss of vision in one or both eyes. As AMD progresses, a blurred area near the centre of vision is a common symptom. Over time, the blurred area may grow larger or you may develop blank spots in your central vision. Objects also may not appear to be as bright as they used to be.

AMD by itself does not lead to complete blindness, with no ability to see. However, the loss of central vision in AMD can interfere with simple everyday activities, such as the ability to see faces, drive, read, write, or do close work, such as cooking or fixing things around the house.

Who is at risk?

Age is a major risk factor for AMD. The disease is most likely to occur after age 60, but it can occur earlier. Other risk factors for AMD include:

  • UV radiation. UV radiation damage the cells of the retina. Always make sure good sun protective sunglasses are worn.
  • Research shows that smoking doubles the risk of AMD.
  • AMD is more common among Caucasians than people from African descent.
  • Family history and Genetics. People with a family history of AMD are at higher risk. At last count, researchers had identified nearly 20 genes that can affect the risk of developing AMD.

Many more genetic risk factors are suspected. You may see offers for genetic testing for AMD. Because AMD is influenced by so many genes plus environmental factors such as smoking and nutrition, there are currently no genetic tests that can diagnose AMD, or predict with certainty who will develop it.

Not everyone with early AMD will develop late AMD. For people who have early AMD in one eye and no signs of AMD in the other eye, about five percent will develop advanced AMD after 10 years. For people who have early AMD in both eyes, about 14 percent will develop late AMD in at least one eye after 10 years. With prompt detection of AMD, there are steps you can take to further reduce your risk of vision loss from late AMD.

If you have late AMD in one eye only, you may not notice any changes in your overall vision. With the other eye seeing clearly, you may still be able to drive, read, and see fine details. However, having late AMD in one eye means you are at increased risk for late AMD in your other eye. If you notice distortion or blurred vision, even if it doesn’t have much effect on your daily life, consult an eye care professional.

How is AMD treated?

Early AMD: Currently, no treatment exists for early AMD, which in many people shows no symptoms or loss of vision. Your eye care professional may recommend that you get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. The exam will help determine if your condition is advancing.

As for prevention, AMD occurs less often in people who exercise, avoid smoking, and eat nutritious foods including green leafy vegetables and fish. If you already have AMD, adopting some of these habits may help you keep your vision longer.

Ocuvite is a vitamin formula developed in the AREDS study and is highly recommended for use when ARMD is diagnosed. Remember that the AREDS formulation is not a cure. It does not help people with early AMD, and will not restore vision already lost from AMD. But it may delay the onset of late AMD. It also may help slow vision loss in people who already have late AMD.

Intermediate and late AMD: Researchers at the National Eye Institute tested whether taking nutritional supplements could protect against AMD in the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS and AREDS2). They found that daily intake of certain high-dose vitamins and minerals can slow progression of the disease in people who have intermediate AMD, and those who have late AMD in one eye.

Advanced Neovascular AMD: Neovascular AMD typically results in severe loss of vision. However, eye care professionals can try different therapies to stop further vision loss:

  • Injections. One option to slow the progression of neovascular AMD is to inject medication into the eye. With neovascular AMD, abnormally high levels of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) are secreted in your eyes. VEGF is a protein that promotes the growth of new abnormal blood vessels. Anti-VEGF injection therapy blocks this growth. If you get this treatment, you may need multiple monthly injections.
  • Photodynamic therapy. This technique involves laser treatment of select areas of the retina. This procedure is less common than anti-VEGF injections, and is often used in combination with them for specific types of neovascular AMD.

How can we help?

Because vision loss varies from person to person, specialists have different tools to help patients deal with vision loss. They include:

  • Reading glasses with high-powered lenses
  • Handheld magnifiers
  • Video magnifiers
  • Computers with large-print and speech-output systems
  • Large-print reading materials
  • Talking watches, clocks, and calculators
  • Computer aids and other technologies, such as a closed-circuit television, which uses a camera and television to enlarge printed text

Keep in mind that without proper diagnosis, evaluation, and training low vision aids such as hand held magnifiers may not work for you. It is important that you work closely with your low vision optometrist to get the best device or combination of aids to help improve your ability to see.

An eye care professional who has examined the patient’s eyes and is familiar with his or her medical history is the best person to answer specific questions. Be sure to make your eye exam appointment at De Jongh Optometrists today – our friendly and professional team will ensure that your eyes are very well cared for!

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