How to Protect Your Eyes

January is National Glaucoma Awareness month and a perfect time to think about protecting this most precious organ.  Glaucoma damages your eye’s optic nerve (which sends images to your brain) due to a buildup of pressure inside your eye.  The symptoms of glaucoma can start so slowly that you may not notice them but if left undetected or untreated, glaucoma can lead to irreversible vision loss or total blindness within a few years.   Although more common in older people, it can start at any age.  There’s no cure for glaucoma, however early treatment can often stop the damage and protect your vision.  A healthy lifestyle, regular exercise, stress management, and avoiding caffeine and smoking also may be protective.   Good nutrition and a diet rich in antioxidants have been shown to play a role in eye health and may even slow the progression of glaucoma.

Specific nutrients and nutritional supplements that may be helpful include:

Retinol (Vitamin A):  Research shows that when people eat foods rich in retinol (vitamin A), they are less likely to get age-related eye diseases.  Some foods rich in this vitamin are eggs, liver, fish liver oils, oily fish (salmon, tuna and mackerel), and dairy products (milk, yogurt and hard cheeses).

Beta-Carotene:  Studies support that fruits and vegetables high in beta-carotene (like carrots) have a protective effect on the eye. Other sources are sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, apricots, papaya and pumpkin.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin:  Dark green and leafy vegetables with high levels of lutein and zeaxanthin are suggested for the prevention of eye diseases. Foods rich in these eye vitamins are kale, collard greens, spinach, broccoli and cabbage.  In fact, a large study that followed men and women for more than 25 years found that those who ate more green leafy vegetables, such as lettuce, kale, and spinach, had a lower risk of being diagnosed with glaucoma.

Vitamin D:  Vitamin D deficiency is associated with a higher risk of glaucoma.  Good sources include sunlight, fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna and mackerel), fish liver oils, as well as cheese, egg yolks, fortified milk, and yogurt.  Since it can be hard to get enough vitamin D through food, a supplement may be necessary.

Ginkgo Biloba:  In some studies, ginkgo biloba has been shown to improve circulation to the eye which may help improve vascular status, which is believed to be important in the prevention and possible treatment of glaucoma.

Other Vitamins:  Vitamin C, B vitamins such as B-12 and magnesium may also help support the health of the optic nerve.




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