Last week, we looked at eye disease and its connection to age. We also looked at age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataract and diabetic retinopathy, all of which were explained.

Today, we are going to look more closely at nutritional advice we can follow to ensure that our eyes remain healthy.

However, another often overlooked risk factor of late-stage eye disease is a sedentary lifestyle. Studies of people with diabetic retinopathy show that they are more likely to be couch potatoes and far less likely to meet the minimum recommendations of 2.5 hours of moderate exercise per week, plus resistance training, as suggested by health authorities in the US and most of Europe.

Evidence unearthed in a study by Chung Jung Chiu, a lead scientist at the Jean Mayer US Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Centre on Ageing at Tufts University, Boston, US, shows that cataract, AMD and diabetic retinopathy are not old-age diseases, so much as diseases of the modern industrial age.

All three diseases are close cousins of other degenerative diseases such as hypertension, vascular disease, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. Each of these conditions shows evidence of raised homocysteine – an amino acid derived from the normal breakdown of proteins.

High levels of homocysteine are caused by inadequate levels of B vitamins and chromium. Although natural sugars and grains contain enough chromium to support the metabolism of high-carbohydrate foods, most if not all B vitamins and chromium are removed during the refining process of the sugars and processed foods that now make up our typical Western diet.

A diet for healthy eyes can include:

• Eating a Mediterranean diet rich in fresh organic fruits and vegetables, olive oil, legumes and fish, whenever possible cooked from scratch;

• Consuming enough protein. A minimum intake of 70-80g per day is advocated by Stanley Evans, who spent 40 years studying cataract in Africans and found that most of them were deficient in protein;

• Stopping smoking. Smoking is also bad for the eyes. The cadmium in cigarettes, which settles in the lens, is probably responsible;

• Eating spinach, kale and cabbage, which are rich in lutein, the most effective carotenoid antioxidant for eyes. Other important lutein-rich foods include kiwis, grapes, corn and egg yolk. Crab, lobster, shrimp, salmon and other red-coloured seafood are rich in astaxanthin, another potent antioxidant. Having 6mg per day can improve visual acuity, say several Japanese studies;

Eat spinach, kale and cabbage. They are all rich in lutein, which is the most effective carotenoid antioxidant for eyes

• Another colour to consider is blue. Blue and purple fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, bilberries, red and purple grapes and blackberries, which contain anthocyanins, have been shown to promote production of a particular retinal pigment, which is crucial for seeing in a dimming light;

• Wearing sunglasses. Studies in Japan and other countries have concluded that exposing your eyes to a high level of sunlight (and ultraviolet radiation) results in the highest incidences of cataract;

• Supplements to keep the eyes healthy include vitamins A, C and E, as they are all antioxidants, together with fish oils, a good vitamin B complex, chromium, magnesium and alpha lipoic acid.

Dr Evans developed his nutritional approach to treating vision problems over 50 years. In that time, he spent 17 years in Africa on an extended research programme into the causes and prevention of blindness. Some interesting case studies came out of his work. Here are a few examples:

Cataracts had begun to develop in a 32-year-old man just three weeks before his first consultation with Dr Evans. The vision in his right eye had fallen to 20 per cent of normal, while the vision in his left eye was 200 per cent of normal. The opacity in the right eye was ‘milky’ (as is often the case with rapid development of cataract).

After four weeks of nutritional therapy, the vision in the left eye had improved to being 100 per cent normal. The ophthalmoscope revealed that the media in the right eye was clear.

An 80-year-old man had a full aperture cataract in both eyes. This resulted in a vision in each eye of 10 per cent of normal. Two weeks of nutritional therapy raised the vision in each eye to 50 per cent of normal.

So can eye disease be reversed? Some studies have shown that taking high doses of certain supplements, orally or as eye drops, directly into the eye, may be able to reverse the damage. For example, AMD patients given supplements of 25 mg of zinc twice a day reported significantly improved vision (Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 2005). There are other studies and supplements with a high success rate.

Cataract, AMD and diabetic retinopathy are not inevitable features of growing old, but yet another symptom of modern Western malnutrition. They can be prevented, halted or even reversed by adopting the right diet, as mentioned earlier, while at the same time limiting sugar, adding exercise to your daily life and taking various supplements.

All of the evidence suggests that the eyes are not simply a window into the soul but a window into your lifestyle. The best advice that can be given is to avoid processed food, cook from scratch and keep an active lifestyle.

kathryn@maltanet.net

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