The gift of good eyesight is precious, and one that we often take for granted until we notice something wrong. Because the eyes are such a delicate structure, damage to the macula and retina happen all too easily due to diabetes, free radical damage, strain, and aging.
For many, vision problems may seem insurmountable. They aren’t. But vision health requires the right nutrients.
Our eyesight is under assault all the time. Millions of people are experiencing eye strain and fatigue, and the progression of nearsightedness. It is a sign of the times due to the use of computers, smart phones and the recreational use of video games and ever-larger television screens. Our eyes are being asked to focus on a specific area for a long period of time like never before in history. This highly concentrated eye strain takes a toll. Over time, the muscles in the eye can gradually “retrain” into true nearsightedness.
But aside from the simple daily grind of looking at computer monitors or working outdoors in the bright sun, to more “hidden” causes like diabetic neuropathy or glaucoma, there is much we typically take for granted when it comes to vision health. And though we expect some changes in our vision as we get older, serious issues don’t have to be inevitable. Nutrients can make a big difference. One of the strongest protectors of healthy vision is black currant.
A Vision Powerhouse Black currant (Ribes nigrum) is rich in anthocyanins, the dark pigment antioxidants also found in elderberries, blueberries, and grapes, but highly concentrated in black currant. These compounds, along with the vitamins, minerals, and other polyphenols in the berry protect your cells from damage, reduce inflammation, and stop oxidative stress. Because of their impressive nutrient profile, black currants are emerging as a vision powerhouse.
In a Japanese study, participants worked at a computer for two hours. The individuals in the black currant group noticed an improvement in visual acuity, including better focus and less time to adapt from dark to light. The participants in the black currant group didn’t experience the back and neck stiffness and eye fatigue so common to working at a computer. Conversely, those taking the placebo experienced false nearsightedness when shifting their focus, and didn’t notice a reduction in fatigue. In another study focused solely on muscle fatigue and stiffness due to typing, those in the black currant group noticed less soreness, which researchers attributed to the effect of anthocyanins on peripheral muscles.
In addition to eye fatigue and strain, black currant helps to stop the increased ocular pressure (IOP) commonly seen as a result of aging. In a clinical study published in the Journal of Ocular Pharmacology and Therapeutics, black currant anthocyanins significantly decreased IOP in just two weeks. The researchers concluded that this botanical helps induce a “beneficial decrease in IOP levels in healthy subjects as well as in patients with glaucoma.” In other words, black currant anthocyanins can help preserve your eyesight and prevent eye disease.
When eyes are healthy, an individual is able to see the entire visual field, including anything entering their peripheral vision. You’ve probably taken visual field tests at the eye doctor when you’re asked to look at a fixed point ahead of you and note anytime a flashing light or “object” appears in your view along the edges. When flashing lights or other cues go unnoticed, it could be an indication of glaucoma, which can be caused by a number of factors.
Black currant also strengthens the structure of the tiny blood vessels in the eyes. A Japanese clinical study found that black currant extract slowed the deterioration of the visual field in those already diagnosed with open-angle glaucoma (OAG). According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, OAG is the most common form of the disease and affects four million Americans. It is a condition in which clogged drainage canals cause a buildup of pressure in the eye which damages the optic nerve. The same study showed that black currant anthocyanins also normalized serum levels of endothelium-1, a protein involved in blood vessel constriction.
One of the reasons that black currant is considered such a heavy hitter in preserving healthy vision is that the anthocyanins from the berry pass through blood-retinal and blood-aqueous barriers intact. That gives them a particularly strong ability to fight inflammatory damage, strengthen blood vessels, and prevent oxidative damage.
Grape Seed Extract
Like black currant, grapes and grape seed extracts contain powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. Grape seed extracts contain powerful components called oligomeric proanthocyanins (OPCs). OPCs provide amazing benefits, but must be small enough for proper absorption before they have beneficial effects. OPCs also contain tannins that are not absorbed, so tannin-free OPCs are much more therapeutic.
Scientific research published in the journal Molecular Vision found that grape seed proanthocyanidins protected human lens epithelial cells from free radical damage by reducing the inflammatory markers NF-kB and MAPK, which could help prevent the formation of cataracts.
A Korean study found that grape seed extract protects the nerve cells to the retina, and a cell study at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Ohio found that OPCs inhibited stress-induced signals that can damage lens epithelial cells and form cataracts, and reduced oxidative stress. Even two hours after administration to the cells, grape seed extract still had the power to stop free radicals. My advice is to look for a high-OPC French grape seed extract that is standardized for 80% oligomeric proanthocyanins that are up to 99% absorbable and tannin-free.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin
These two carotenoids (structurally related to beta-carotene, probably the most well-known carotenoid) are incredibly important to the eyes. That’s because lutein and zeaxanthin are the primary carotenoids present in the eyes, especially protecting the retina and the macula – a yellow spot near the center of the retina that allows us to see fine details. An observational study focused on women (age 50-79) in the U.S. concluded that diets rich in these nutrients may help protect against intermediate age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in women 75 and younger. In other words, the earlier you get lutein and zeaxanthin, the better.
AMD is the main cause of blindness for people age 60 and older and the leading cause of blindness in developed countries. As the name indicates, it affects the macula – tissue at the center of the eye that lets us see fine detail. Eventually, as the retinal tissue breaks down, vision gets more and more blurred.
Aside from AMD, lutein and zeaxanthin may also protect us from overall vision loss. Other work has shown that increasing lutein and zeaxanthin intake has sharpened focus and visual acuity.
Of course, both of these carotenoids have strong free-radical fighting power as well, so they are able to stop the oxidative stress and inflammation that is one of the leading causes of retinal damage and often begins the process of macular degeneration. A Spanish review in the Journal of Opthamology concluded that these nutrients, among others, may help prevent – or at least slow the progression of – AMD.
The nutrients I’ve outlined here can help you keep the wonder of vision healthy and strong. It is an amazing gift, so if you have any concerns about your eyesight, I urge you to consult a professional. After all, there’s a lot of beauty to see and experience in this world of ours. After discussing the ingredients in this recent newsletter that are most helpful for better vision, I summarized the ingredients below to help you be a better educated shopper.
About the Author
Terry Lemerond Author and Educator, has 40 years experience in the health food industry as an owner of several health food stores and nutritional manufacturing companies. Follow him at Terry Talks Nutrition.