Eat well : Nutrition for aging eyes

23 July 2019 Feature

A healthy balanced diet is a good foundation for the eyes (Picture designed by Freepik).A healthy balanced diet is a good foundation for the eyes (Picture designed by Freepik).

Age-related macular degeneration is one of the main causes of vision loss in older people.

THE World Health Organisation estimates that nine percent of the world’s population is over 65 years old. By 2050, that figure is likely to jump to 17 percent.

Fact is, the average life expectancy is rising faster than it has in the last 50 years.

What this potentially means is we are living longer but not necessarily healthier.

With a rapidly rising aging population, it is inevitable that we will be living more years with chronic lifestyle diseases and impairments.

One such impairment involves our eyes and vision in the form of age-related macular degeneration or AMD.

AMD is one of the main causes of vision loss in older people, affecting up to between 30 and 50 million globally.

As its name implies, the risk for developing this condition is age. The macula is a sensitive area in our retina that gives us good vision and ability to see color.

As we age, the metabolism of our retinal area becomes less efficient. Deposits of waste matter, called drusens, accumulate in the eye.

This causes the eye to lack nutrients to keep it healthy. Over time, this damages the light cells in the macula region. Eventually, your central vision will be blurred and less acute.

You will feel no symptoms. Plus, if AMD affects only one eye and you can see well with the other one, you may not even be aware that you have the condition.

The risk factors for developing AMD include:

  • Family history — the chances of getting AMD is higher if it runs in your family.
  • Smoking — whereby oxygen supply to the eyes is affected.
  • Prolonged sunlight exposure — ultraviolet rays damage retinal cells.
  • High blood pressure.
  • An unhealthy diet high in fatty food, cholesterol, refined sugar and low in antioxidants.

While you can’t change your genetic make-up, making changes to lifestyle factors such as diet, physical exercise and smoking will definitely help.

Embrace a healthy diet

A healthy, balanced diet of whole grains, vegetables, fruit, lean meats, and dairy is a good foundation for overall health, eyes included.

Avoid short-term extreme diets. Follow the healthy plate portions of filling up a quarter of your plate with carbohydrate foods, a quarter of it with lean proteins and half of your plate with vegetables and fruit.

Include at least two servings of dairy and make water your beverage of choice instead of sweetened drinks.

Think ace!

Getting sufficient vitamins A, C, and E in your diet have been linked to a lower risk for AMD and cataracts.

You can get these nutrients in a variety of food. Just make sure you add them to your daily meals.

Vitamin A and beta carotene (a compound which your body converts to vitamin A when required) are rich in fruits and vegetables that are yellow and orange in colors such as carrots, pumpkin, mangoes, and sweet potatoes.

Vitamin C is rich in citrus fruits and vegetables such as oranges, lemons, and limes, kiwifruit, broccoli, strawberries, tomatoes, Brussel sprouts, chili, and capsicum.

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin so you will find it mainly in nuts, seeds, and oils that are from nuts and seeds. So go for sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, etc.

Don't miss out on Vitamin D and Zinc

Researchers are noticing a significant association between a deficiency in vitamin D and diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication that affects your eyes from years of being diabetic, which eventually damages the fine blood vessels in the retina.

Hence, it is important that your diet provides you with enough vitamin D.

In their investigation, the researchers observed that sufficient vitamin D in our diet does also lower the risk for AMD as well.

Include this vitamin D rich foods in your meals such as milk, dairy, salmon, trout, tuna, and mushrooms. Zinc is a mineral that we need for eye health too. You can get them in shellfish such as oysters and crab, beef, beans, and cashew nuts.

Protective benefits of antioxidants

Lutein, zeaxanthin, carotenoids, and catechins are antioxidants that are abundant in plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruit, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. All these are beneficial for eye health.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are present in high amounts in our retina. Lutein protects our eyes because it has the ability to absorb harmful blue light rays.

While there is no dietary reference amount established for lutein and zeaxanthin, the American Optometric Association recommends an intake of 10ml of lutein and 2ml of zeaxanthin per day as prevention for AMD.

Foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin include leafy green vegetables such as kale, spinach (bayam), swiss chard, mustard greens, and deep yellow colored vegetables such as capsicum, carrots, pumpkin, etc.

Supplements for AMD

The National Eye Institute in the US conducted two large clinical trials in 2001 and 2006 respectively to see the impact of supplementation of specific nutrients on the risk and progression of advanced AMD in the elderly.

The studies showed a reduced risk of advanced AMD over five years.

Based on those studies, The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends people with intermediate and advanced AMD to consider supplementing their diets to get the higher therapeutic amounts of key nutrients as part of their treatment.

As with any supplementation, do speak to your doctor to ensure there are no adverse interactions with other medication or treatment you are receiving.

It’s never too early to start taking care of your eyes to slow down the progress of age-related degeneration. Excuse the pun, but do give it the focus it needs.