Nutrients For Healthy Eyesight
2006 may well be the "Year of the Antioxidant." The latest research has discovered these substances, which prevent or impede cell
oxidation (destruction) by free radicals, in everything from red wine to blueberries to chocolate - and now, red meat.
Red meat is the richest food source of alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), which has been called the
"universal," "ideal," and "ultimate" antioxidant. According to the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter, "What makes ALA special as an antioxidant is its
versatility - it helps deactivate an unusually wide array of cell-damaging free radicals in many bodily systems." ALA also helps "recycle"
vitamins C and E and other antioxidants, thus making them much more effective.
ALA is thought to be a powerful weapon in the fight against the oxidative stress we encounter as
we age. The incidence of eye problems such as macular degeneration, cataracts and pterygium (a fleshy growth on the cornea that can impede
vision) increase dramatically as we age due to free-radical damage from factors such as smoking, poor nutrition, and exposure to ultraviolet (UV)
Bilberry is thought to improve night vision. A close relative of the cranberry, bilberry is high in a certain type of bioflavonoid that speeds
the regeneration of rhodopsin, the purple pigment used by the eyes' rods. British air force pilots in World War II ate bilberry jam to improve
their night vision during evening sorties.
Bilberry fruits, found in the forest meadows of Europe, western Asia, and the northern Rocky
Mountains, contain flavonoid compounds called anthocyanidins. Flavonoids are plant pigments that have excellent antioxidant properties; they
have been shown to help prevent a number of long-term illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and macular degeneration, the leading cause of
vision loss and legal blindness in Americans age 65 and older, according to the eye-health organization Prevent Blindness America.
Copper is an essential trace element that is required for the proper formation of collagen, a component of the connective tissues. It is found in
various foods, including organ meats (especially liver), seafood, beans, nuts, and whole grains. Copper gluconate, a readily absorbable form of
copper, is one of the most important blood antioxidants, helping to keep cell membranes healthy and aiding red blood cells to produce hemoglobin.
Since the function of the blood is to carry oxygen and other nutrients, poor circulation causes decreased oxygen delivery - and subsequent damage
- to tissues in different parts of the body; some of the most sensitive tissues to decreased blood flow and oxygen delivery include the brain,
the heart, the kidneys, and the eyes. Over time, vision loss can occur.
Eyebright has been used for centuries to treat eye irritation. Its Greek name, Euphrasia, comes from Euphrosyne, one of the three Graces, who was
distinguished for her joy and mirth. The name is thought to have been given the plant because of its valuable properties as an eye medicine that
preserved eyesight and so brought gladness into the life of the sufferer.
Eyebright is an antioxidant herb. Its antibiotic and astringent properties tighten membranes and
mucus surrounding the eyes, effectively strengthening and improving circulation. Rich in vitamins A and C, eyebright also contains tannins that
are beneficial for reducing inflammation.
The ginkgo is the oldest living tree species, growing on earth for 150-200 million years. No surprise, then, that it's one of the most
well-researched herbs in the world. Studies have confirmed that ginkgo, a powerful antioxidant, increases blood flow to the retina and can slow
retinal deterioration, which results in an increase of visual acuity. Retinal damage has a number of potential causes, including diabetes and
macular degeneration. Studies suggest that gingko may help preserve vision in those with macular degeneration.
Glutathione is an amino acid that protects the tissues surrounding the lens of the eyes. According to Web MD, "It also has potentially widespread
health benefits because it can be found in all types of cells, including the cells of the immune system, whose job is to fight disease." Numerous
studies link glutathione with the prevention of cataracts, glaucoma, retinal disease, and diabetic blindness. Foods that increase glutathione
levels include sulfur-rich foods such as garlic, eggs, asparagus, and onions, and glutathione-rich foods such as watermelon, asparagus, and
Lutein, found in our retinas, is essential for healthy vision. Lutein and a related dietary carotenoid, zeaxanthin (see entry below),
accumulate within the retina and imbue a yellow pigment that helps protect the eye. It lowers the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration (low
lutein intake is implicated as a risk factor in age-related macular degeneration), and may also help to prevent or slow down atherosclerosis.
Lutein is found in the red, orange, and yellow pigments of fruits and vegetables; for example, tomatoes, carrots, and squash. Green leafy
vegetables such as spinach also contain high amounts of lutein.
N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC)
NAC is an amino acid similar in structure to cysteine, a building block of proteins. In our body, NAC helps stimulate the production of
antioxidants by replenishing the body's levels of glutathione (see entry above). NAC is thought to both stave off disease and play an
important role in boosting the immune system.
Quercetin is a powerful antioxidant, as well as a natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory. It is a citrus bioflavonoid, a natural substance
that helps protect capillaries, prevent bruising, and intensify the effect of vitamin C in the body - in fact, bioflavonoids are essential for
total vitamin C effectiveness.
In a study of adults with symptoms of macular degeneration, moderate red wine consumption (a
source of quercetin) offered some protection against the development and progression of the disease. Dark berries, such as blueberries,
blackberries, and cherries, are also high in flavonoids. Animal studies suggest that quercetin inhibits the activity of compounds that contribute
to the development of cataracts.
Another bioflavonoid, rutin, is found in many plants, especially the buckwheat plant, the flour of which is used to make pancakes. Other rich
dietary sources of rutin include black and green tea, and citrus fruits. Rutin is considered to be an important nutritional supplement because of
its ability to strengthen capillaries. The American Journal of Ophthalmology notes that rutin has been used with success to treat
retinopathy in preliminary research.
Selenium is a trace mineral that our bodies need to boost immunity and fight off infections. It can also help prevent cataracts and macular
degeneration by acting as an antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals that can damage the eye's lens and macula; studies have identified low
selenium levels in cataract sufferers. Selenium also helps your body to absorb vitamin E. Fish, shellfish, red meat, grains, eggs, chicken,
liver, and garlic are all good sources of selenium, as well as brewer's yeast and wheat germ.
Vitamin A is absolutely essential for eye and vision health. In our bodies, vitamin A is required by the retina for its proper functions - in
fact, one of the two sources of dietary vitamin A goes by the name "retinoids." The other source is carotenoids, obtained from fruits and
vegetables containing yellow, orange, and dark green pigments, including that old standby, beta-carotene. When Mom told you to eat your carrots
for good vision, she wasn't kidding!
Vitamin A is necessary for the production of rhodopsin, the visual pigment used in low light
levels. One of the causes of night blindness is vitamin A deficiency; supplements of that vitamin are often recommended for those with poor night
vision, along with a diet emphasizing Vitamin A-rich foods, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, mangoes, spinach, and cantaloupe. Vitamin A helps
your eyes adjust to light changes; it moistens the eyes, which can enhance visual acuity; it has been shown to prevent the forming of cataracts;
and it has been shown to help prevent blindness from macular degeneration.
Vitamin C's importance as an antioxidant cannot be overstated. The Web site All About Vision even calls this vitamin the "Vision
Vitamin C has been linked to the prevention of cataracts - one study has shown that taking 300
to 600 mg supplemental vitamin C reduced cataract risk by 70 percent - the delay of macular degeneration, and eye pressure reduction in glaucoma
It's an interesting fact that, while most animals produce their own vitamin C, we humans do not
have that ability. In addition, we can't store this vitamin in our bodies for very long, so it needs to be constantly replenished to obtain its
benefits. Most of us think of orange juice as the quintessential source of vitamin C, but many vegetables are actually even richer sources: chili
peppers, sweet peppers, kale, parsley, collard, and turnip greens are full of vitamin C, as are broccoli, Brussels sprouts, watercress,
cauliflower, cabbage, and strawberries.
Because of its antioxidant action, vitamin E helps protect against cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. A clinical study has showed
that taking vitamin E can cut the risk of developing cataracts in half. Another study also showed that the combination of vitamins C and E had a
protective effect against UV rays. Symptoms of vitamin E deficiency include muscle weakness, loss of muscle mass, abnormal eye movements, and
Uveitis, an inflammation of the middle layer (uvea) of the eye, is another disorder for which
the antioxidant vitamins C and E may be helpful. The uvea contains many of the blood vessels that nourish the eye; inflammation of this area can
affect the cornea, the retina, the sclera, and other important parts of the eye.
The richest source of vitamin E is wheat germ. Dark green leafy vegetables (such as spinach,
kale, and collard greens), sweet potatoes, avocado, asparagus, and yams are also good sources of vitamin E.
Clinical research has determined that lutein (see entry above) and zeaxanthin are two naturally occurring carotenoids present in the
macular segment of the retina. The concentration of these two is so high in the macula (the retinal region responsible for fine visual
activities), that the carotenoids are visible as a dark yellow spot, called the macular pigment, in normal, healthy retinas. They act like
sunglass filters to protect the eye.
Research performed at Harvard Medical School has established that dietary zeaxanthin plays an
essential role in protecting the retina of the eye from the damaging effects of light. Epidemiologic studies have shown that people with higher
lutein/zeaxanthin levels have reduced risk for advanced stages of macular degeneration.
Blue-eyed individuals need more lutein and zeaxanthin because they have less of these protective
pigments in their retinas. Again, dark, leafy greens are the dietary winner here, along with corn, nectarines, oranges, papaya and
Our eyes actually contain the greatest concentration of zinc in our body. This essential element is required for the conversion of beta-carotene
into vitamin A. Oysters contain more zinc per serving than any other food, but red meat and poultry provide the majority of zinc in the American
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