Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a major cause of significant vision loss in older people. Cumulative oxidative and inflammatory stress is thought to play a role in AMD. Micro-nutrients are vital for eye health, but you will never see an optician giving nutritional advice, they just want to sell glasses, contact lenses and offer laser treatments. The perfect treatment in the medical world is one that's expensive and that needs to taken for the rest of your life; glasses and contact lenses are intended for lifetime use and only treat the symptoms and never the cause.
Modern living has taken its toll on our eyes, as we are constantly looking at blue light sources such as computer screen, TVs and mobile phones.
The retina contains molecules that undergo a chemical change upon absorbing light. The light image is mapped on the surface of the retina by activating a series of light-sensitive cells known as rods and cones (photoreceptors). The rods and cones convert the light into electrical impulses which are transmitted to the brain. The retina is lined with many millions of photoreceptor cells that consist of two types. 7 million cones provide colour information and sharpness of images and 120 million rods which are extremely sensitive detectors of white light to provide night vision. The tops of the rods and cones contain a region filled with membrane-bound discs, which contain the molecule cis-retinal bound to a protein called opsin. The precursor of vitamin A is present in the variety of plant carotene. Vitamin A is critical for vision because it is needed by the retina of the eye. As light enters the eye, the 11-cis-retinal changes it's geometry. The chemistry involved is simply breathtaking, the new form of trans-retinal does not fit as well into the protein and so a series of geometry changes in the protein begins. As the protein changes its geometry, it initiates a cascade of biochemical reactions that results in changes in charge so that a large potential difference builds up across the plasma membrane. This potential difference is passed along to an adjoining nerve cell as an electrical impulse. So as you are reading this, billions of chemical reaction are being performed every second in your eyes.
The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) was a large randomised clinical trial, found that participants at high risk of developing advanced AMD reduced their risk of developing advanced AMD by 25% by taking a daily supplement containing beta-carotene (a pre-cursor of vitamin A, 15 mg), vitamin E , vitamin C (500 mg), zinc (80 mg), and copper (2 mg) for 5 years compared to participants taking a placebo. The later AREDS2 study confirmed that lutein and zeaxanthin were the critical ingredients.
Lutein and zeaxanthin
Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids. Zeaxanthin is an antioxidant carotenoid found in your retina which cannot be made by your body. You must get zeaxanthin from your diet. Lutein is found in your macular pigment, which helps protect your central vision and aids in blue light absorption. Both zeaxanthin and lutein are also found in high concentrations in your macula lutea, the small central part of your retina responsible for detailed central vision. The best vegetable sources of lutein and zeaxanthin are green leafy vegetables and other green or yellow vegetables. Among these, spirulina, kale and spinach top the list.
While there’s no recommended daily intake for lutein and zeaxanthin, studies have found health benefits for lutein at a dose of 10mg per day and at 2mg/day for zeaxanthin. Pasture fed eggs range from 1-3mg of lutetin and 0.7-1.5mg of zeaxanthin.
Glutathione and eye health
Glutathione is a huge nutritional factor for eye health. Glutathione is a natural antioxidant produced within all living cells. Numerous studies link glutathione with the prevention of cataracts, glaucoma, retinal disease and diabetic blindness. It detoxifies the aqueous fluid of the inner eye and may helps to maintain adequate fluid outflow. Glutathione exists in high concentrations in the eye lens and it's essential in maintaining its transparency. Glutathione levels decline in the lens as you get older.
Glutathione is a short chain of 3 amino acids that plays several vital roles in the body. Every cell in our body produces glutathione and it’s the most important antioxidant. Glutathione is capable of preventing damage to important cellular components caused by reactive oxygen species such as free radicals, peroxides, lipid peroxides, and heavy metals. Glutathione is synthesised in the body from the amino acids L-cysteine, L-glutamic acid and glycine and we can get it from certain foods. It is not advisable to take a glutathione supplement, your should instead take the building blocks for glutathione. Read more about glutathione here...
Vitamin E eye health
Vitamin E is believed to protect eye cells from unstable free radicals, which break down healthy eye tissue. This is what may lead to the formation of cataracts or age-related macular degeneration. Although vitamin E sounds like a single substance, it is actually the name of eight related compounds in food, including alpha-tocopherol. Each form has a different potency, or level of activity in the body.
Vitamin B1 & benfotiamine
Vitamin B1 is a water soluble vitamin found in many foods including yeast, cereal grains, beans, nuts, and meat. The body needs vitamin B1 to convert carbohydrates into glucose, the main source of energy in the body. As vitamin B1 is an essential co-factor in carbohydrate metabolism, low levels are thought to have an impact on glucose control in the body. Every cell of the body requires vitamin B1 to form the fuel the body runs on-adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Nerve cells require vitamin B1 in order to function normally, including the optic nerve. Benfotiamine is a synthetic fat soluble version of vitamin B1 that is very beneficial with diabetics or people who suffer from Peripheral Nerve Function (tingling fingers etc). Peripheral neuropathy is damage to the nerves of the extremities that often results in numbness or tingling. Diabetes is one of the major causes of peripheral neuropathy. Alcohol abuse is another cause of peripheral neuropathy. Dr Mercola does a super B complex supplement with benfotiamine.
Benfotiamine is used as a prescription drug for treating eyesight disorders which are linked to low levels vitamin B1 (thiamine).
Since benfotiamine is better absorbed by the body than normal vitamin B1 (because it is fat-based), it more boosts B1 and can reach fatty areas. Diabetics are at risk of having eye issues. Diabetes damages the small blood vessels in the retina of the eye leading ultimately to blindness.
Vitamin B2 has antioxidant properties enabling it to slow down the pace of aging. Vitamin B2 can help prevent eye disorders including cataracts and glaucoma. Vitamin B2 decreases the risk of eye disorders that can develop as someone ages. Vitamin B2 drops are applied to patient’s corneal surface who suffer from glaucoma, allowing the vitamin to penetrate through the cornea and to increase the strength of the cornea. But a diet rich in B2 or a B2 supplement is a great preventative measure.
Omega 3 and eye health
Studies suggest that omega 3 fatty acids may help protect adult eyes from macular degeneration and dry eye syndrome. Omega 3 helps proper drainage of intraocular fluid from the eye, decreasing the risk of high eye pressure and glaucoma. A large European study studied people who ate oily fish (an excellent source of DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids) at least once per week, they had half the risk of developing wet macular degeneration. However the data is mixed regrding omega 3. But the wider benefits of omega 3 for health are undisputed.
In our eyes, creatine provides the power needed to translate light and darkness into the electrical signals that generate vision once integrated within our brains.
Selenium and zinc
Certain nutrients, including zinc and selenium, offer particular benefits to eyesight. Selenium and zinc might help protect against glaucoma, a condition associated with increased pressure within the eye, which can lead to optic nerve damage and blindness. Selenium acts as an antioxidant in the body and also aids in the absorption of other micronutrients, vitamin E in particular. Zinc is a cofactor for over 500 biochemical reactions in the body, most of them happening in the brain. Zinc is an essential helper molecule that plays a vital role in bringing vitamin A from storage in the liver to the retina in order to produce melanin, the protective pigment in the eyes. Zinc is highly concentrated in the eye, mostly in the retina and the tissue layer under the retina.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin and a powerful antioxidant. Vitamin C helps the body form and maintain connective tissue, including collagen found in the cornea of the eye. It also promotes healthy blood vessels (capillaries) in the retina. Studies show that Vitamin C can protect the tissues of eyes from oxidative stress that accelerates with age. Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin, which means the amount that our body can’t store it for later use. We must rely on daily dose of Vitamin C through diet and supplements to maintain optimum levels and enjoy good eye as well as overall health.
Astaxanthin and eye health
You may not of heard of astaxanthin, but it's a carotenoid. Astaxanthin is a powerful, naturally occurring carotenoid pigment that's found in certain marine plants and animals. Often called "the king of the carotenoids," astaxanthin is recognized as being one of the most powerful antioxidants found in nature. Astaxanthin has amazing antioxidant activity, 10 times higher than that of zeaxanthin, lutein, canthaxanthin, and β-carotene, and 100 times higher compared with vitamin E. Astaxanthin gives many marine animals their orange colour, such as krill, salmon, shrimp, crab and lobster. A study that employed astaxanthin as a key component suggests that it is an excellent addition to eye healthcare supplements that already contain lutein and zeaxanthin. Mark Tso, PhD, of the University of Illinois, was the first to prove that astaxanthin crossed the blood-brain-retina barrier.
- The recommended dosage of astaxanthin is 2-4mg.
- Astaxanthin is 295 μg/g of lobster protein (roughly 60μg/g in the meat). So 100g of lobster meat would give a whopping 6mg.
- Krill is an excellent source of astaxanthin.
The only visible arteries in your body are in your eye. Cardio Retinometry is a method of studying heart disease through the analysis of the eyes. It is a preventative measure against the threat of heart disease, high blood pressure and strokes. Using standard optical equipment for opticians, such as a fundus camera, patients can discover the early symptoms via the study of small arteries in the rear of the eye.
One of the leading proponents of retinal arterial analysis is Dr Sydney Bush. He is a great supporter of Linus Pauling's view that vitamin C can reverse arterial plaquing and thinning.
Autophagy refers to an ordered and purposeful digestion of cellular components. It’s basically the way a cell can deal with unused or poorly folded proteins. This is a normal cellular process that is key in preventing diseases such as cancer, loss of brain function, heart disease, diabetes, liver disease and infections. Researchers believe that autophagy is a survival mechanism that has anti-aging benefits. The body cleverly uses waste produced inside cells to create new building materials that aid in repair and regeneration.
- If cells sense a decrease in essential supplies (such as in a period of intermittent fasting) autophagy is boosted. It is thought that autophagy peaks after 12-16 hours without food. So if you skip breakfast and have an eating-window later on in the day, you will feel the benefits of increased autophagy.
- Exercise puts stress on the body and triggers autophagy. Exercise actually causes tiny microscopic tears in the muscles that the body then rushes to heal, making the muscles stronger and more resistant to any further damage you might do. Exercise also depletes your cells of oxygen and glucose which triggers autophagy. Regular exercise helps you to body to cleanse and rejuvinate. The perfect exercise for autophagy is 20-30 minutes of high intensity training (HIIT).
- Autophagy is linked to sleep. While you sleep, your body goes into repair mode. Most functions either turn off or slow down in preparation for the next day. Recent studies show that the brains hippocampus has a distinct rhythm of autophagy that can be altered by fragmented sleep. Your sleep patterns can hold over the body's normal physiology as well as disease processes. A circadian rhythm is any biological process that displays an oscillation of about 24 hours.
Light and eye stress
The sunlight we see is actually composed of all of the visible frequencies of light, from red to blue, depending on the energy and wavelength of the individual rays. Rays on the red end of the visible light spectrum have longer wavelengths and, therefore, less energy. Rays on the blue end of the spectrum have shorter wavelengths and more energy.
In addition to the healthy affect on your skin, sunlight also provides another positive benefit. The human eye contains photosensitive cells in its retina, with connections directly to the pituitary gland in the brain. Stimulation of these important cells comes from sunlight, in particular, the blue unseen spectrum. Photosensitive cells in the eye also directly affect the brain’s hypothalamus region, which controls our biological clock. This influences our circadian rhythm, not just important for jet lag but for normal sleep patterns, hormone regulation, increased reaction time, and behavior. Most cells in the body have an important cyclic pattern when working optimally, so potentially, just about any area of the body can falter without adequate sun stimulation. The sun can help brain function, which can improve the nervous system, hormonal regulation, muscle function, immune health, and carries many other benefits.
Mobile phones and eye health
The sun was once the major source of lighting, and people spent their evenings in relative darkness. The cellular rods in our eyes, that work in low light, outnumber the cones by 10:1. But with modern day living, our evenings are illuminated with smart phones, LED screens and artificial lights. At night, light throws out our biological clock. This is the the circadian rhythm that is based upon 24 hours. Research shows that disruptions to the circadian rhythm contributes to cancer, diabetes, fatigue, heart disease and obesity.
Blue wavelengths are beneficial during daylight hours because they boost mental performance. But the blue rays are disruptive at night. Computer screens, phones and LED lights at night give us all excessive exposure to blue light. Even low light can interfere with a person's circadian rhythm and melatonin secretion. Blue light at night adds to sleep disorders, depression and health problems.
- Use low red lights for night lights.
- Block every trace of light in your bedroom whilst you sleep. Cover the alarm clock screen. Don't leave any standby lights or charging lights on.
- Avoid looking at bright screens beginning before bedtime.
- Wear blue-blocking reading glasses or install an app that filters the blue/green wavelength at night.
- Most modern phones have a night-light setting. If your phone doesn't then you can install an app (just google blue light phone app).
- Download a pc application that changes your screens light at night (eg sunset screen).
- Those curly compact fluorescent lightbulbs and LED lights are much more energy efficient than the old-fashioned incandescent lightbulbs we grew up with. But they also tend to produce more blue light. You can source bulbs that give off a warmer, less blue, light.
- Expose yourself to lots of bright light during the day, which will boost your ability to sleep at night, as well as your mood and alertness during daylight.
Eye health strategy
Your eye health can be very deceptive as changes are so gradual. You could have great vision well into your forties, only to see things deteriorate quickly. If you are obese and diabetic or pre-diabetic, you have a much greater risk of serious vision loss or even blindness.
Remember that opticians are in the game to make money. They want to sell you contact lenses, glasses and expensive laser surgery. One thing they don't do is offer dietary advice as there is no formal training in this area for undergraduate optometrists. "As primary healthcare professionals there is an existing duty to be able to advise patients on products which may help maintain the health of their eyes and vision" (General Optical Council 2016).
They want to sell you PRODUCTS!
- Vitamin A: Eat foods such as liver, liver pate, sweet potato, carrots, bluefin tuna, spinach, mackerel and salmon. You don't need to go crazy with vitamin A intake as it can have a negative effect upon vitamin D (they use the same receptors).
- Lutein & Zeaxthanin: Eat green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and Swiss chard. Egg yolks contain lots too, but they must be quality eggs.
- Vitamin E: Eat foods that are rich in vitamin E such as almonds, sunflower seeds, spinach, sweet potato and avocado. Also consider a vitamin E & astaxanthin supplement (or a Krill oil and vitamin E combo).
- Vitamin C: Eat foods that are rich in vitamin C such as guava, kiwi, papaya, blueberries, strawberries and citrus fruits. Supplements are very cheap.
- Astaxanthin and omega 3: Eat lobster, wild caught salmon and shrimp. A krill oil supplement is also recommended. These foods are also very high in omega 3.
- B Vitamins: A benfotiamine supplement is recommended. But eat whole foods such as sunflower seeds, macademia nuts, bacon, milk, yogurts, and almonds. A small teaspoon of nutritional yeast each day is also recommended.
- Zinc and selenium: These can be obtained easily from a multi-vitamin, but food sources are the best route. Brazil nuts are packed with selenium, just a couple of nuts a day is enough. Zinc rich foods include oysters, crab, pumpkin seeds, beef and shellfish. Zinc is critical to human health and hundreds of biological processes.
- Get your eyes checked out with a good optician (or better still see a hospital specialist). Always get a second opinion , especially as opticians are in the business of selling glasses.
- Get out as much as possible in the daylight and wear UV filtering sunglasses only in bright sunshine. Always wear glasses or goggles if you are in snowy or sandy regions.
- Limit your screen time and use blue light reducing techniques at nighttime, such as screen colour changers.
- Have breaks when doing screen work.
- Avoid harsh blue light particularly just before bedtime.
- Cut out all light when you are asleep.