National Eye Health Week: Taking Care of Our Eyes
The seventh annual National Eye Health Week begins on 19th September. The campaign’s aim is to promote the importance of eye health and help people to understand the best ways to look after their eyes.
According to the campaign organiser Vision Matters, sight is the sense people fear losing the most. While regular sight tests are widely understood to be one of the best ways to prevent sight loss, there are several other ways that we can protect eye health. Regular exercise can reduce the risk of sight loss by preventing high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries. Sun protective eyewear is also important to shield eyes from damaging UV rays.
Another important consideration is the effect of nutrition on eye health. Vision Matters emphasise the importance of a good diet in protecting eye health, especially as 60% of people living in the UK are unaware that our diet can affect the health of our eyes (1).
Low GI Diet
A good diet, full of low-GI, antioxidant-rich whole foods is crucial for eye health. Excess sugar in the blood can damage delicate eye tissues. Diets high in refined carbs such as white bread, white rice, and sugary treats have been linked to an increase in age-related macular degeneration (AMD) (2).
Degeneration of sight is also thought to be linked with diabetes. Sugar in the blood can damage the optic nerve at the back of the eye, as well as the lens at the front of the eye. Uncontrolled high blood sugar levels in diabetes can also affect the blood vessels supplying the eyes, eventually leading to blurred vision and sight loss.
Adopting a low-GI diet can be done with a few simple changes. Go for whole grains rather than refined grains and whole fruit rather than fruit juice. Concentrate on high fibre foods such as beans and vegetables and eat some protein with every meal, including breakfast.
Omega-3 fats are important for all-round eye health. They provide structural support to cell membranes and are also helpful for sufferers of dry eyes. Omega-3 fats are helpful in promoting proper drainage of intraocular fluid from the eye, and they also decrease the risk of glaucoma. Just one portion of oily fish per week has been found to reduce the risk of developing AMD by up to 40% (3).
The best sources are sardines, salmon and rainbow trout, as these oily fish are also low in mercury. Those who don’t like fish can obtain the omega-3 fat DHA from a good quality fish oil or algae supplement.
Several clinical trials suggest that diets high in antioxidant nutrients are linked with lower rates of AMD (4).
By far the strongest evidence for the value in antioxidants in protecting eye health is for two nutrients called lutein and zeaxanthin. Lutein and zeaxanthin help your eyes to filter out UV light and also protect the macula (the centre of the retina) from damage.
In a study of more than 4000 adults, those who ate the most foods containing lutein and zeaxanthin had a 35% lower risk of developing AMD (5). Consequently, the researchers supported the use of lutein and zeaxanthin supplements in the prevention of AMD.
Top 10 Foods for Lutein & Zeaxanthin (per 100g):
|Kale (raw)||39,550 mcg|
|Kale (cooked)||15,798 mcg|
|Spinach (raw)||15,798 mcg|
|Collards (cooked)||8,091 mcg|
|Spinach (cooked)||7,043 mcg|
|Lettuce (cos or romaine)||2,635 mcg|
|Broccoli (cooked)||2,226 mcg|
|Corn (cooked)||1,800 mcg|
|Peas (canned)||1,350 mcg|
|Brussels sprouts (cooked)||1,290 mcg|
1. Eyecare Trust ‘Healthy Eyes Report’.
2. Mares JA and Moeller SM. Diet and age-related macular degeneration: expanding our view. Am J Clin Nutr 83:4 pp. 733-734.
3. van Leeuwen R, Boekhoorn S, Vingerling JR, et al. Dietary intake of antioxidants and risk of age-related macular degeneration. JAMA 2005;294:3101–7.
4. The Relationship of Dietary Carotenoid and Vitamin A, E, and C Intake With Age-Related Macular Degeneration in a Case-Control Study Archives of Ophthalmology September 2007, Vol. 125 No. 9.
5. Seddon JM, Cote J, Rosner B. Progression of age-related macular degeneration: association with dietary fat, transunsaturated fat, nuts, and fish intake. Arch Ophthalmol 2003;121:1728–37.