Eat right to see right

Eat right to see right

BODY CARE

While we are constantly reminded of the need for a well-balanced diet that would help us live a healthy, disease-free life, until recently, we have largely looked at eye health in the limited context of getting their essential vitamins from carrots and perhaps seeing an eye doctor once a year with few realising that the food we eat and the lifestyle we pursue have a bearing on our eye health as well.

Vitamins and eye health

It has long been known that Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is the main cause of preventable blindness in children. We now also know that Vitamin A plays an important role in strengthening the body’s resistance to infection. Eye diseases due to Vitamin A deficiency include night blindness, conjunctivalxerosis (dry and lusterless white surface of the eye), Bitot’s spots, corneal xerosis (corneal dryness) and in severe cases, ulceration, keratomalacia (melting of cornea) and corneal scars. The government today actively supports supplementation of vitamins in children and pregnant mothers.
In various studies and clinical trials,  antioxidant vitamins found in certain foods have been linked with eye health. They help to maintain healthy cells and tissues in the eye. The main focus has been on the anti-oxidant vitamins A, C and E.

Veggies, eggs, meat

Vitamin A is an antioxidant found in vegetables like carrots and spinach, eggs and  liver.  Vitamin A is essential for the proper functioning of the retina and helps the eye adapt between light and dark. It has also been shown to reduce the risk of cataract and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). By including citric foods or green peppers, broccoli and sweet potato which are rich in Vitamin C and nuts along with green, leafy vegetables, the onset of cataract can be delayed and the health of the retina preserved.  
Nuts, sea foods and oils

In addition to the major vitamins and nutrients listed above, there are other foods that help in keeping the overall health of your eyes. Flax seed oils can promote excellent eye health. They are rich in essential fatty acids, particularly Omega-3, which work throughout the body to protect cell membranes. Selenium, zinc, wheat and nuts help the body absorb and convert many of the vitamins listed above. In addition, zinc plays a major role in enabling the secretion of enzymes responsible for ridding your body of antioxidants.

Berries

Bilberry is perhaps one of the most beneficial foods that helps restore eye health. This unassuming berry has a multitude of attributes conducive to excellent eye health. Bilberries contain natural antioxidants which strengthen blood vessels.

Research speak

A large research trial, called the ‘Age-Related Eye Disease Study’ (AREDS), showed that high quantities of the antioxidant Vitamins A, C, E, beta-carotene and the minerals zinc as zinc oxide, and copper as cupric oxide, can help to slow down the progression of AMD by 25 per cent and the risk of moderate vision loss by 19 per cent.

It would be very hard to obtain the large quantity of vitamins used in the trial from your diet. Therefore, some may consider supplementation with vitamins and anti-oxidants. However, high dosages of vitamins and minerals can have possible side- effects on the body. For this reason, it is very important to consult a doctor first before taking a supplement.

Eye nutrition and diabetes

Diabetes has been associated with various eye diseases. Uncontrolled diabetics are not only at the risk of developing changes in their retina (diabetic retinopathy) but are also at a higher risk of developing cataracts and glaucoma early. Diabetics should have food items with low glycemic index (GI). The GI value is based on how fast carbohydrates in the food raise the body’s blood-sugar levels. Low GI foods have less impact on blood sugar fluctuations.

Lifestyle

Factors such as alcohol and smoking, known as ‘anti-nutrients’, can deplete the body of its store of vitamins and minerals. In addition, stress depletes the body of Vitamin C, B complex and magnesium. Lead in the atmosphere interferes with the absorption of zinc. All this is likely to impact on the health of the eye, especially in view of the fact that more than 25 per cent of the available nutrients in the body contribute towards nourishing the eye and the nerves, blood vessels and tissues which support visual function.

Researchers focusing on eye health today agree that for some, nutrition will play an important role in maintaining eye health and lessening the risk of developing certain diseases.

Key points to remember:

*Eat a good, balanced diet with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables
*Before taking vitamins or other supplements, discuss with your doctor
*The biggest avoidable risk is smoking
*Remember, too much of anything is bad
*Get your eyes tested at least every two years and more frequently if necessary.

(The author is a Paediatric Ophthalmologist, Sankara Eye Hospital)

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