What to Eat to Treat Vision Disorders
Vision disorders affect the nervous and glandular immune centers.
Ninety-six percent of the universe is invisible to us, say cosmologists. And how well do we manage the 4 percent that’s in plain view? Not so well, apparently. When the visionary immune center is running on nutritional near-empty, anything from dry eye syndrome (DES) to age-related macular degeneration (AMD) can and does result. More than a million Americans over age forty are blind, and millions more suffer from some sort of visual shortfall—nearsightedness, farsightedness, night blindness, presbyopia, dry eyes, and simply tired eyes. Worse, those numbers are expected to double over the next three decades, according to the National Eye Institute.
Consider AMD, which is the leading cause of blindness. Eight million of us older than age fifty-five are at serious risk for this disorder, which blurs the sharp central vision by destroying the macula of the eye. It is painless, and like glaucoma it can advance slowly with few clues that vision is deteriorating.
Glaucoma, which affects some 3 million Americans, is an imbalance in the production and drainage of fluid in the eye, which in turn causes a buildup of pressure that can damage the optic nerve. People over the age of sixty-five, the very nearsighted, African-Americans, people with diabetes, and hypertension victims are most at risk. If you have a genetic susceptibility, all you may need is some oxidative stress to activate it.
In cataracts, damage to the protein of the lens of the eye causes clouding, which impairs vision. This oxidation can occur as a result of smoking, exposure to the sun, and other environmental threats. Toxic levels of lead in the body can also contribute to cataract formation. Nothing is known to fully reverse the condition. Symptoms are blurred vision, seeing spots, or a sense of a film covering the eye.
Then there’s night blindness: a difficulty with seeing well in dim or dark light is an indication of a deficiency of vitamin A, necessary for the production of visual purple.
What to Eat: Visionary Foods
The good news is that there are plenty of oh-say-can-you-see solutions within reach. Here are seven for starters:
- Pick from vegetables rich in the various carotenoids found in carrots, collards, mustard greens, sweet potatoes, and spinach. It is said that the amount of lutein in half a cup of spinach, eaten regularly, may cut the risk of AMD in half. Lutein and zeaxanthin are the two carotenoids in the retina that are critical for good ocular function. The macula also contains a high concentration of carotenoids that protect against UV light and blue filter light, the primary sources of oxidative damage.
- Focus on concentrated mixtures of foods that intensify nutrients such as
- multivegetable soups like minestrone and gazpacho
- multivegetable salads
- fruit smoothies with three to six ocular-nutrient-rich fruits
- fruit salads and dessert soups
- Besides the usual bananas, apples, and berries, also include rhubarb, which is high in vitamin A, and kiwis, which supply more lutein than any other fruit or vegetable except corn. (A daily fuzzy fruit can also lower your potential for clots and reduce triglycerides.)
- Don’t forget berries, the number one best source of antioxidants. The purple pigment in bilberries and other dark berries called anthocyanins regenerate an essential protein in the eye called visual purple. Anthocyanins protect the eyes from free radical damage caused by age and sunlight. Get out of your berry comfort zone, and try the more exotic and more nutrient-dense goji berries or acai berries (which have twenty times more antioxidants than red wine). Both are available as a dried snack and as a supplement.
- Other vision-strengthening nutrients include zinc, found in whole grains, beans, and nuts (as well as meat and poultry for nonvegetarians). Zinc is essential for the synthesis of the enzyme that controls retinal function.
- Keep the following in your freezer, fridge, or cupboard:
- flaxseeds and chia seeds
- walnuts, Brazil nuts, and soybeans
- sea vegetables (and safe fish, if you eat it) for the omega-3 fatty acids, which fight ocular inflammation and reduce the risk of AMD and glaucoma. Experiment: try dulse crumbled on salads in place of bacon bits, hijiki steamed and tossed with pasta, kelp sprinkled on vegetables in place of salt and pepper, and arame in the vegetarian hash.
- Drink up. Water and high-water foods such as lettuce and juicy fruits such as peaches, plums, and melon make everything in the body work better, especially dry and fatigued eyes.