Whether you currently have 20/20 sight or can’t see the big E on an eye chart, here’s how to keep your eyes as strong and sharp as possible.
My father officially became old the day he came home with glasses. He was in his early 40s, but to a 10-year-old, failing eyesight was the hallmark of the ancient, a daily reminder that my dad was no longer young. Of course, my perception changed 180 degrees when, in my late 20s, my own eyes began to falter, transforming me into a daily wearer of contact lenses and specs (albeit cool ones).
The truth is that everyone eventually bows to presbyopia, commonly known as “old sight.” Around age 40, your retina (the thin layer of sensory tissue that lines the back of the eye and works like film in a camera) begins to lose its sensitivity to light, meaning you need higher wattage to work and read. Also, your lenses (located right behind your colorful irises) lose their elasticity and ability to adjust their focus close up and far away, which sends you into the nearest optical shop.
As you get older, other ailments can beset your vision as well, especially age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the top cause of vision loss for those 65 and older. Experts predict, in fact, that the number of Americans over 40 with AMD will increase by 50 percent to 2.95 million by 2020. Two types of AMD exist: dry and wet. Dry AMD is the most common and affects about 90 percent of patients. It’s caused by a gradual deterioration of the macula, the part of your retina responsible for central vision. You use central vision to see everything straight ahead, say, for instance, when reading, driving, or walking stairs. Wet AMD involves the growth of abnormal blood vessels beneath the macula, which can leak blood and fluid and disrupt vision. Besides AMD’s link with aging, scientists know little about what triggers either type, although they’ve linked smoking and high blood pressure to wet AMD.
While you can’t necessarily stop your eyesight from failing with time, you can slow the process by keeping your eyes as strong and healthy as possible. The following nutritional strategies, herbs, and eye exercises, culled from three healing traditions around the world, may help you see clearly well into your sunset years.
You are what you eat, and that goes for your eyes too. For optimal eye health, go green and yellow. A 2007 study in the Archives of Ophthalmology found that people 60 and older reduced their risk of wet AMD by 35 percent by eating at least two daily servings of yellow and green vegetables. These veggies provide antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin, which absorb harmful UV rays that hit the eye. You find lutein in leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, and collards, and in broccoli. Zeaxanthin occurs abundantly in yellow corn, persimmons, pumpkin, squash, and orange bell peppers. Other eye-healthy foods include:
* Omega-3 fatty acids. Found in cold-water fish, such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel, as well as in flaxseed, hempseed, and canola oils, omega-3 fatty acids play a key role in the health of the retina and reduce inflammation. A Harvard study on eye disease, for example, determined that people who eat at least two servings of fish a week have a 50 percent lower risk of AMD than those who eat none.
* Tomatoes, red peppers, and citrus fruits. Diets high in vitamin C lower your risk for cataracts, according to an analysis from the Second National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
* Onions and garlic. The body converts the sulfur in these foods to glutathione, which protects your lenses and helps prevent cataracts.
* Carrots. Who could forget this one? The beta-carotene in carrots and other orange or yellow vegetables becomes vitamin A in your body, a nutrient vital for the functioning of the retina.
On the flip side, loading up on sugary and starchy foods can make your eyes more vulnerable to AMD. In a recent study of more than 4,000 adults age 55 to 80, Tufts University scientists noted that those with high-glycemic diets—heavy on sweets and refined grains like white flour—were the most likely to have advanced AMD in at least one eye. While other factors besides diet may have contributed to the disease, the researchers speculated that high blood sugar advances AMD by contributing to the breakdown of the retina and inflammation of the blood vessels supplying the eyes. They estimate that one-fifth of the advanced AMD cases might have been prevented by eating foods low on the glycemic index.