Eye health is the subject of mounting research as age-related macular degeneration, also known as ARMD, as well as glaucoma and cataracts become the main causes of vision loss and blindness in the United States. The American Academy of Ophthalmology estimates that ARMD has resulted in the blindness of more than 1 million people worldwide, yet it is unclear how and what triggers the disorder.
ARMD occurs when light-sensing cells in the back of the eye or retina malfunction and tissues are deprived of the oxygen and nutrients needed to keep the eye healthy, leading to vision deterioration.
The central part of the retina contains a yellow pigment that protects the eye from sunlight and the harmful effects of blue light from computer screens and electronic devices.
Reduction of this protective pigment is linked to poor diet and such air pollutants as cigarette smoke, vapors from cleaning products and ionizing radiation, according to Dr. Walter Pierpaoli, president of Interbion Foundation for Basic Biomedical Research in Zurich, Switzerland.
Most treatments for both the wet and dry forms of ARMD rely on nutritional supplementation of lutein and zeaxanthin to slow down progression. In Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Dr. Changxian Yi reported improvement with melatonin, zinc and selenium supplementation. Melatonin is an extremely effective antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals in the body.
A 2004 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Seddon et al listed vitamins E and C, carotenoids, zinc, selenium and krill oil, along with lutein and zeaxanthin, as protectors of eye health.
Once damage is done to eye tissue, it is hard to repair, so food becomes the best medicine. As far back as 1977, in an article in Science, the quercetin found in fruits and vegetables was hailed for its contribution to healthy vision. Today, anthocyanins from bilberry and wild blueberries are added to dietary supplements for vision health.
Vision changes can cause alterations in mental status, especially since most people are visual learners. Anything worse that 20/40 can influence cognitive function, according to Chung et al in Journal of Ocular Pharmacology Therapeutics. The 3 million people with glaucoma, the 25 percent of the population over age 75 suffering from ARMD and those with cloudy vision from cataracts can all benefit from a healthy diet of carotenoids, which can be found in winter squash, carrots, spinach, turnip greens, radicchio and kale.
My favorite way to enjoy carotenoids is Butternut Squash and Chopped Pecans.
Betty Wedman-St Louis is a licensed nutritionist and environmental health specialist in Pinellas County who has written numerous books on health and nutrition. Visit her website at betty-wedman-stlouis.com.