Eyes provide us with the gift of sight by interpreting our surroundings through the detection of light. Although often overlooked, eye disorders affect a large proportion of the population across all ages. In order to maintain optimal vision, it is vital to look beyond the eyes and consider the health of our whole system.
The front of the eye is made of the cornea, iris, pupil and lens. These are responsible for focusing an object onto the retina. The retina is light sensitive, covers the back of the eye and consists of millions of nerve cells that gather together behind the eye to form a large nerve called the optic nerve. Cells in the retina convert incoming light into electrical impulses. These electrical impulses are carried by the optic nerve to the brain, which finally interprets them as visual images.
Everything we see through the eye is the result of this intricate process. Should damage occur to any part of this process, the end picture is compromised
Macular degeneration causes damage to the macula, which is the most sensitive part of the retina and located at the back of the eye. It is made up of millions of light-sensing cells that provide sharp, central vision. Typically this is an age-related condition that makes it difficult to read and identify faces. While permanent loss of central vision is possible, peripheral vision may remain unchanged, allowing for daily activities to still be carried out.
Glaucoma is progressive deterioration of the optic nerve, often associated with increased pressure inside the eye. It is often inherited and may not show up until later in life. Other less common causes include a blunt or chemical injury to the eye, severe eye infection, blockage of blood vessels in the eye, inflammatory conditions of the eye, and on occasion eye surgery to correct another condition. Glaucoma usually occurs in both eyes, but it may involve each eye to a different extent. There may be no early symptoms or associated pain so regular eye checks are important for early diagnosis.
Cataracts are cloudy areas that develop within the eye lens. As with a camera lens, light normally passes through to the back of the eye with ease. However with cataracts, the amount of light that reaches the retina is restricted, leading to a decrease in vision. These cloudy spots are commonly caused by ageing and tend to develop slowly. In the early stages there may be no symptoms. Without treatment (usually surgery) cataracts will eventually lead to complete blindness.
Dry eyes is a common condition that occurs when your tears aren’t able to provide adequate lubrication for your eyes. Causes include ageing, using a computer, inflammation of the eyelid glands and eyelash follicles and use of some medications. Some diseases are commonly associated with dry eyes, including arthritis, diabetes, asthma, thyroid disease and lupus. Treatment is dependent on the cause. If left untreated, severe dry eyes may lead to eye inflammation, abrasion of the corneal surface, corneal ulcer and vision problems.
With so many blood vessels, the eye suffers the consequences of a strained circulatory system. Hypertensive retinopathy refers to damage to retina caused by high blood pressure. Keeping blood pressure under control by maintaining healthy weight, managing stress levels, and reducing inflammation of the blood vessels will reduce this risk. Prevention of inflamed blood vessels requires good amounts of omega three fatty acids, magnesium and antioxidants.
Diabetes is a leading, non-age-related cause of blindness in adults. Diabetes can cause your blood sugar levels to rise, which can result in damage to the blood vessels in your retina. The risk of cataracts and glaucoma are greatly increased in diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy, the most common diabetic eye disease, occurs when blood vessels in the retina change. Sometimes these vessels swell and leak fluid or even close off completely. In other cases, abnormal new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina.
Maintaining a diet that promotes healthy blood sugar levels will help to ensure tiny blood vessels in the eye are not damaged. Eating healthy fats and adequate protein, combined with plenty of plant-based foods, is the best way to avoid diabetes and therefore reduce the risk of diabetic retinopathy.
Collagen is a major protein in the body and is found on the surface of the eye. Providing the eye with this structural protein will help it function and repair; vitamin C, for example, is helpful in supporting collagen production.
Zinc is present in extremely high concentrations in the retina and is a good antioxidant that helps to maintain proper eye function.
Vitamin A is required in large doses to ensure proper functioning of the retina, particularly in the dark. Vitamin A also plays a vital role in preventing dry eye.
Beta carotene can be converted into vitamin A and is found in sweet potato, kale, spinach and carrots.
Lutein is important for eye health as it forms a protective shield and can help to prevent the formation of cataracts as well as macular degeneration. Lutein is found in spinach, tomatoes, squash and carrots.
Six Foods to help eyesight
These sweet tasting root vegetables are a great source of beta carotene, important for keeping your vitamin A levels up. Carrots make the perfect no-mess snack. Enjoy carrot sticks with hummus to add protein and fats.
Lutein and zeaxanthin, found in particularly high amounts in spinach, are both strong antioxidants found in large concentrations in the eye. They are known to reduce the incidence of macular degeneration and cataracts. Choose baby spinach leaves for salad at lunch or stir fry beet leaves with your choice of protein for dinner.
A great source of lutein, zeaxanthin and zinc, eggs are full of nutrients to support eye health. Zinc helps to regulate blood sugar levels so consuming high amounts regularly will help to keep the risk of diabetes and therefore eye related conditions low. Whole eggs make the perfect breakfast to get you seeing straight for the day ahead.
Citrus fruits and berries
These fruits are high in vitamin C, which helps to produce collagen. Their strong anti-inflammatory action will provide extra protection to blood vessels. Swap a sugary dessert with a bowl of fresh berries for a healthy and sight-protecting alternative.
Almonds are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help lubricate the eye and prevent dry eye. Their anti-inflammatory action also may protect blood vessels, helping to prevent hypertensive retinopathy. The added benefit of their vitamin E content acts as a general antioxidant, giving even more protection. About eight to 10 almonds make the perfect blood sugar-balancing snack.
Anchovies and sardines are the safest fish source of omega three with no threat of mercury exposure. The omega-3 content not only lubricates the eye but also protects blood vessels from damage. These fats also help to balance blood sugar metabolism and should be included in all meals.