How to Shield Your Eyes from the Horrors of Aging
There are a lot of things I don’t want to be when I grow older, but one of them is blind. Especially when it’s preventable—which, in a huge number of cases, it is.
The leading cause of adult blindness and vision loss in adults over sixty is something called age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
And a few simple supplements can support the long-term health of your eyes.
You may recall from high school biology that the retina contains two types of photoreceptors—cones and rods.
Cones are the ones that provide color sensitivity, and most of them are located in the central area of the retina in a structure called the macula. So when the macula “degenerates,” you’re in trouble—color vision and vision sharpness both deteriorate significantly, and in the worst case scenario, you can be looking at blindness (excuse the pun!).
The cause of macular degeneration is not really known, but it’s believed that there is an insufficient disposal of waste materials from the cells. Cell waste is normally carried off, but in this case some is left behind and it blocks the light.
When this happens, essential vision decreases; you always have peripheral vision, but you lose your central vision. In other words, you can’t recognize faces or watch TV.
Risk Factors and Solutions
Macular degeneration is estimated to affect 1.8 million Americans 40 years and older, with an additional 7.3 million at substantial risk for developing it. Smoking, poor diet, and obesity all increase the risk, as do high blood pressure and a number of factors that you can’t control (like family history, aging, and genes).
But what you eat—and the supplements you take—affect the macula, and research shows that diet and supplements can be used to support the long-term health of your eyes.
The ARED study
In 2001, the National Eye Institute conducted the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), which involved more than 3,600 people. Researchers found that supplementation with antioxidants and zinc reduced the risk of progressing to advanced macular degeneration by 25 percent, especially in groups at highest risk. They reported a significant (27 percent) reduction in risk for vision loss in these higher-risk groups.
What were those nutrients?
A simple antioxidant combo consisting of 500 mg vitamin C, 400 IU vitamin E, 15 mg beta-carotene, and 80 mg zinc.
But there are two important nutrients for the eye that were not included in the study. Why?
Because not much was known about them at the time of the research.
Not anymore. We now know that lutein and zeaxanthin—two members of the carotenoid family emerging as the superstars of eye nutrition—are vitally important for vision.
Lutein and its related compound, zeaxanthin, are highly concentrated in the macula, providing a yellow color known as the macular pigment, which protects the macula. You want that pigment to be dense, the better to protect your eyes.
A 1997 study found that subjects fed a diet high in lutein and zeaxanthin experienced nearly a 20 percent increase in macular pigment density. That same year it was found that the use of a lutein supplement can also increase the density of the protective macular pigment.
You can, of course, get some lutein from foods such as spinach, kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, though probably not enough to get the full therapeutic effect you’d get from supplements.
In 2004, the Lutein Antioxidant Supplementation Trial (LAST) found that subjects receiving lutein or lutein plus antioxidants showed a significant increase in macular density and in some measures, visual function.
Virtually every expert now includes lutein and zeaxanthin (they are usually found together) in any formula for eye health and for the prevention of macular degeneration and adult vision loss.
Omega-3 Fats Also Play an Important Role
It’s not only antioxidants but also omega-3 fatty acids that help protect your eyes and preserve your vision in a variety of ways.
Observational studies suggest that people with dietary intakes higher in omega-3 fatty acids have a lower risk of developing macular degeneration. In 2011, researchers at Harvard conducted a dietary analysis on 38,000 women and found that those with the highest intake of EPA and DHA (the omega-3’s found in fish) had a 38 percent lower risk of macular degeneration.
The author of the study, William G. Christen, MD, said, “…the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish… may also be of significant benefit in the primary prevention of age-related macular degeneration among women who have no disease.”
And a review of omega-3 functions in the retina from the National Eye Institute’s Division of Epidemiology and Clinical Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids play a pivotal role in protecting the retina. They should be included in any program for eye health and vision preservation.
Supplements for Macular Degeneration
To help prevent macular degeneration and to keep your eyes in tip-top shape for many decades we recommend two basic supplements.
We’ve sorted through the thousands of supplements that are available to support long-term eye health and are thrilled to recommend the cream of the crop to you below.
OcuForce by Designs for Health contains an elegant mix of powerful antioxidants like beta carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E.
It’s also got a full range of B vitamins, plus anthocyanidins, ginkgo biloba, quercetin, green tea extract, the powerful antioxidant n-acetyl-cysteine, and alpha lipoic acid.
It also contains therapeutic doses of lutein and zeaxanthin, the superstar carotenoids that can reduce the risk for macular degeneration.
You can take Occu-Force together with your basic multiple to make sure you’re getting a full range of eye-protecting antioxidants.
We recommend Barlean’s Ultra EPA-DHA Double Potency. This pharmaceutical grade, molecularly distilled omega-3 supplement contains one of the largest doses of EPA and DHA we’ve seen in a high quality supplement, providing a whopping 783 mg of EPA and 400 mg of DHA.
EPA and DHA are the two omega-3’s found in fish (and grass-fed beef). Barlean’s is known to be extremely careful about their sources, and their fish oil comes from pure and pristine sources.
Taken individually or together, these supplements…
…are an excellent way to support the long-term health of your eyes.