You might be thinking, my eyesight is fine or I don't need glasses so why should I care about my eye health?
Well today we are going to show you why you should care, and right away!
Many of us tend to put off our health until it becomes a problem, but the best way to avoid problems down the road is to be proactive. Not to mention improve your quality of life today.
The most common eye disorders and diseases include macular degeneration, cataract, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma (1).
Common symptoms that could indicate eye problems include blurriness, discharge, irritation, light sensitivity, pain, and vision loss.
These can arise from a combination of factors such as aging, diet, lifestyle, and genetics.
Out of our 5 senses, our eyesight may be the most important and it's not something we should take for granted but instead care for on a daily basis.
Nutrients for eye health
Healthy eyes start with a healthy plate! And this means plenty of nutrients from quality animal products and brightly coloured fruits and vegetables. The nutrients listed below, in particular, have been shown to help improve vision, maintain eye function, and prevent deteriorating eye problems from developing.
This vitamin is essential for good eye health and vitamin A deficiency is one of the leading causes of preventable blindness in children (1).
Vitamin A is found in animal foods such as eggs, liver, cod liver oil, wild salmon, and dairy products.
You may have heard that the plant form of vitamin A, or retinol, is beta carotene.
Beta carotene is the precursor to retinol and found in sweet potatoes, squash, spinach, carrots, and kale. It is also an antioxidant that can help to combat oxidative stress and protect cells from damage.
As the body needs to convert beta carotene into its active form of vitamin A, plant foods are not as effective at raising vitamin A levels in the body as animal sources of vitamin A. You can, however, increase the absorption of beta carotene by pairing these plant foods with a source of healthy fat (2).
Lutein is a carotenoid that has many benefits on eye health including protecting the retina from light damage and improving or even preventing age-related macular diseases (3).
You can find lutein in food sources such as kiwi, oranges, grapes, leafy greens, peas, squash, and eggs. You can also supplement to receive the benefits.
Lutein from food sources, just like beta carotene, is best absorbed when paired with a healthy fat.
Zeaxanthin is another carotenoid and antioxidant associated with good eye health.
Many studies have identified the important roles that combined zeaxanthin and lutein play in protecting the eyes from damage (4).
Along with lutein, zeaxanthin represents the major constituent of macular pigment, a compound which is concentrated in the retina which plays an important role in visual performance, protecting photoreceptors from damage, and preventing macular degeneration (5).
Some of the highest zeaxanthin foods include corn, paprika, goji berries, brussels sprouts, bell pepper, broccoli, and leafy greens.
Omega 3 fatty acids
The omega 3 fatty acids include DHA and EPA. DHA, in particular, is found in the highest concentration in the retina. In fact, 30% of the fatty acids that make up the retina are in the form of DHA!
These omega fats are anti-inflammatory in nature and can help to reduce oxidative damage as well as unwanted symptoms such as dry eyes (6).
DHA is especially important during the childhood years as deficiency can impair proper development (7).
The best source of omega 3 fats come from oily fish however you can also find them in plant sources such as chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseeds. If dietary intake is inadequate supplementation with a quality fish oil or algae oil may be recommended.
Vitamin E represents a collective of fat-soluble vitamins that have important antioxidant properties and can help to protect the eyes from damage.
Due to the antioxidant role that vitamin E plays it can help to reduce oxidative stress and thus reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration as well as cataracts (8).
Foods rich in vitamin E include sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, peanut butter, and spinach.
Another potent antioxidant, vitamin C is known for its immune-enhancing abilities but it is also another nutrient essential for eye health.
As age-related eye diseases are often associated with increased inflammatory levels and oxidative stress, vitamin C may have an important role in protecting the eyes from oxidative damage and the development of eye diseases.
Having adequate vitamin C levels has also been shown to lower the risk of developing cataracts or at least delay or prevent any worsening of the condition (9).
Those with cataracts tend to have a lower status of antioxidants from fruits and vegetable consumption (10).
You can improve your levels of vitamin C by either including rich sources of the vitamin in your diet or through supplementation, though dietary intake is preferred for most individuals.
Lifestyle hacks for healthy eyes
Minimize the use of electronic devices
With the rise in use of electronic devices and exposure to artificial light come health consequences ranging from headaches, mental fatigue, insomnia, daytime fatigue, and dysregulation of the circadian rhythm (11).
They can also damage our eye sight if we are not careful. Prolonged exposure to artificial blue light can increase the risk of retinal damage and age-related macular degeneration (12). This is caused by increased ocular inflammation and oxidative stress as well as photochemical damage (13).
Children are more affected than adults by these artificial sources of blue light so it's important to set boundaries with them and limit the use of electronics especially around bedtime.
Frequent and long term exposure to sources of blue light represent the highest risk for the development of health problems. We recommend limiting daily use of TVs, computers, and phones and especially at night time. This is the perfect time to set up a bedtime routine and get around to that book you've been meaning to read!
However, if you are using electronics and artificial light repeatedly blue light blockers may be a wise investment.
Blue light blocking glasses have become recently popularized to protect us from the damaging effects of blue light emitted from electronics, but they are also fashionable!
These special glasses claim to help reduce the effects of blue light while protecting the retina from potential damage (14). As a result, they can help to ease any discomfort and improve symptoms such as headaches and eye strain from the use of digital screens.
Find natural daylight
Blue light can actually be beneficial because it is naturally produced by the sun. When the cells in the human eye come into contact with sun light they send messages to the hypothalamus in the brain to then produce certain hormones. Sunlight exposure governs our natural circadian rhythm and influences various bodily functions such as immune health, cognitive function, sleep quality, and energy (15).
Interfering with the body's circadian rhythm can increase the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes which is linked to the development of eye disease such as cataracts, glaucoma, macular edema and diabetic retinopathy (16).
Getting sunlight exposure as early as possible is one of the best ways to regulate your circadian rhythm.
But it also can improve your eye sight!
Research is now showing that daylight exposure can reduce the risk of developing myopia, or near sightedness, in children by stimulating adequate dopamine production, needed to prevent elongation of the eye and thus myopia (17)(18).
Like anything else it's important to establish a balance with the sun by practicing safe sun exposure and protecting your eyes during the brightest times of the day. Moderation is key!
Extended exposure to sunlight can be damaging to the eyes, therefore avoiding direct sunlight exposure around midday as well as wearing sunglasses are recommended. The potential damage inflicted by ultraviolet rays increases with light coloured eyes.
Choose sunglasses that protect the eyes from UVA and UVB light and look for 100% protection on the label (19).
Avoid white LED lighting
LED lighting produces short wave higher energy blue light and is linked to health concerns such as retinal damage and reduced sharpness of vision, according to the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (20).
Chronic exposure to LED lighting could accelerate damage of the retina and even potentially promote the development of degenerative diseases such as age related macular degeneration (21).
What can you do instead? Follow the recommendations above and opt for alternatives to LED lighting such as incandescent warm light bulbs and full spectrum lighting.
Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.