Preventative Care for Eye Health
In a world of excessive technology use, we find ourselves looking at screens and devices multiple times a day. Many of us know that staring at our screen is not the best for our mental and physical health - it often comes with a lack of real human interaction, less time spent outside, more time sitting, bad posture, being addicted to working or games, and comparing our lives to others’. Something we may not think of as commonly, but that has been becoming more and more of an issue, is the effect of screen time on our eyes.
Declining vision and eye health have often been associated with aging. However, eye problems such as eye strain and macular degeneration are becoming more prevalent in the younger generations. A large contributor to this is the overuse of blue light screens that are held close to the eyes for extended periods of time. Declining eyesight can also be linked to poor nutrition, dehydration, too much sun exposure, and exposure to chemicals, pollutants, and tobacco smoke.
Common eye health issues
Macular Degeneration - occurs when the macula, the central part of the retina, deteriorates, which eventually leads to vision loss. This condition used to be associated with aging but is now seen in people of all ages. Macular degeneration can’t be reversed but it can be slowed with diet, lifestyle, and supplemental intervention.
Eyestrain - is common with overuse of the eyes from activities such as using the computer, reading, watching television, and using cell phones. You may feel an aching sensation around the eyes and may even develop headaches. Wearing improper prescriptions lenses can also cause eyestrain.
Causes of Declining Vision and Eye Health
Technology - Blue Light
Blue light is a high-energy visible light that is emitted by electronics. Looking at the screens of our phones, computers, tablets, and television exposes our eyes to the blue light, which stimulates daytime hormones such as cortisol. When cortisol levels are raised, melatonin production is suppressed. Melatonin is the hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness and is meant to be high at bedtime. When it’s suppressed, we don’t produce enough in the evening and so our bodies don’t get the signal that it’s time to go to bed. Laying in bed and scrolling through our phones, as many of us do, is therefore directly and negatively affecting our ability to fall asleep and to have a restful sleep.
Try - using an app such as Night Shift (for your phone) or f.lux (for your computer) that turns your screen from blue light to a warmer tone, giving yourself a screen curfew, leaving your phone out of the bedroom at night, and investing in some blue light blocking glasses.
Excessive Screen Time
Not only does gazing at screens interfere with hormones due to the suppression of melatonin, it also leads to eye strain. Having our eyes so close to a screen or even paperwork for extended periods of time can cause strain on the eyes and can lead to problems such as headaches, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, and irritated eyes. This is especially relevant for people who work on computers every day.
Try - taking breaks to focus your eyes on other areas in the room away from your work and farther in the distance whenever you find yourself looking at a screen or printed paperwork for a prolonged period of time. (A good rule of thumb is to take a 20-second break every 20 minutes, and to focus your eyes on something 20 feet away. Remember 20-20-20!) Also, try taking 5-10 minute breaks from the screen every hour or so and getting a good night’s sleep to give your eyes adequate rest.
Preventative Diet & Lifestyle Tips for Eye Health
Protecting your eyes from ultraviolet (UV) rays can save your sight, as UV rays can contribute to the development of cataracts and macular degeneration. Wearing UV-protective glasses means more than just wearing tinted eyeglasses, however. Dark glasses prevent needed light from entering the eyes. The functioning of the pineal gland, which plays an important role in the regulation of metabolism, behavior, and physiological functions, is largely governed by sunlight.
Try - wearing clear spectacles that have been treated to keep out UV rays, if you wear glasses.
Poor diet is a major contributor to eye problems. Eating a Standard American Diet that is full of processed and packaged foods, chemical additives, sugar, and salt, and that is lacking in nutrients, is not at all supportive to optimal eye health. This type of diet is highly inflammatory and lacks essential vitamins and minerals that are necessary for eye health.
Try - avoiding the above-mentioned foods while incorporating plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts and seeds (especially broccoli, cabbage, carrots, leafy greens, squash, and sunflower seeds). Eat a diet high in vitamins and minerals - especially B vitamins, vitamins A, C, and E, selenium, and zinc (fresh fruits and vegetables are a great source of nutrients which promote eye health, especially yellow-orange ones such as peppers, carrots, yams, and cantaloupes).
Drinking adequate amounts of high-quality (filtered or spring) water is essential to eye health and is especially necessary for cataract prevention. As with dry eye, eye strain caused by dehydration can result when the eye is not properly lubricated. Avoid fluoridated and chlorinated water.
Try - aiming to drink half your weight (in pounds) in fluid ounces of water each day, spaced periodically throughout the day.
Adequate Protein Consumption
Since the light-absorbing retinal pigment is composed largely of protein, it is necessary to monitor and make sure protein levels are adequate within your diet. If you want to guard against eye disease and maintain healthy eyes, it is recommended to keep replenishing your levels of glutathione by eating at least a little protein with every meal or by supplementing with a good-quality, grass-fed whey protein powder. If whey or milk products tend to upset your stomach, steer clear of these and stick to quality protein sources such as hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, organic poultry such as chicken or turkey breast, wild-caught salmon, herring, lentils, and kidney and/or black beans.
Try - making sure to include protein with every meal, as adequate amounts are crucial in order to feed your eyes with the essential nutrients they need.
Two carotenoids, lutein, and zeaxanthin, are antioxidants that are located in the eye. Antioxidants such as lutein and zeaxanthin actively reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration - both of which often occur with aging. Adding foods that contain these wonderful antioxidants will highly improve your eye health and reduce your overall risk of developing one of these eye diseases.
Try - consuming dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, turnip greens, swiss chard, collard, and broccoli on a daily basis.
Supportive Supplements and Herbs
Along with a health-promoting diet, supplementation with specific vitamins, minerals, and herbs can help to prevent and even correct eye problems. Always check with a health care provider before taking any supplements.
Multivitamin and Mineral Complex
A good general multivitamin and mineral helps to ensure the intake of nutrients needed for eye health. Look for one that contains good amounts of the vitamins, minerals, and/or herbs listed below.There are many supportive eye-blends on the market. Look for one that combines the following herbs and nutrients.
Vitamin A, C & E (ACE)
Vitamin A is the most important nutrient to make sure you’re reaching adequate levels of antioxidants. Vitamin A protects the eyes from free radical damage, is necessary for pigment formation and maintaining the proper balance of intraocular fluid, is vital for normal vision function, and is essentially beneficial for all eye disorders. Both vitamin C and vitamin E also provide valuable repair building blocks for the eyes. Vitamin E can strengthen tissues including eye tissue, and plays a role in fighting free radical damage and arresting cataract formation. Vitamin C has a similar action as the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which both have a positive effect on eye health.
Try: 25,000 IU of vitamin A, 2,000 mg 3x/daily of vitamin C, and 200 IU of vitamin E daily. You can purchase a good quality ACE supplement at your local health food store.
Zinc + Copper
Zinc enhances immune response and helps protect against light-induced damage to the eyes. A deficiency has been linked to eye disorders, so supplementing through diet and/or supplementation may be necessary. Copper is important for proper healing and for stopping the growth of cataracts. Copper is also needed to keep a healthy balance of both minerals, as these minerals can often compete with each other for absorption.
Try: 50 mg/day of zinc and 3 mg/day of copper.
Taken orally, bilberry supplies bioflavonoids, which aid in removing toxic chemicals from the retina of the eye. This herbal remedy can also be used for macular degeneration and has been shown to improve vision. Bilberries help blood circulation in the smallest of capillaries and contain anthocyanosides, which help the eye adjust to various levels of light. Treatment at an early stage is most effective.
Best in capsule form.
Herbalists have used eyebright in poultices to relieve eye strain for centuries. People also use the extract mixed with water to create eyewashes for treating eye infections, inflammation, and pink eye.
Best in tincture or capsule form.
It’s best to consult with a holistic practitioner prior to taking or combining herbs or supplements.