The Eyes Have It – What is the Impact of our Lifestyle on our Eyes?
Marcia Zimmerman, M.Ed., CN
Formulas for eye health rank second in consumer demand for dietary supplements according the latest marketing research. With millions of computer users out there, this isn't surprising. Many spend their days in front of a computer screen with less than ideal lighting, and then sit up at night watching TV. Is it any wonder that our eyes itch, burn, tear up and turn red?
Aside from these annoying symptoms, what is the full impact of our modern lifestyle on the health of our eyes? This article has two sections the first will suggest things you can do to lessen eye stress. The second will offer remedies for common eye problems.
Reducing Eye Stress
The eyes are actually extensions of the brain that filter and focus light. The optic nerve picks up the light signal from the retina and transmits the information to the visual center of the brain, which creates images of what we see. In capturing light energy, the eyes play a major role in regulating cellular, hormonal, immune, and nervous system function.(1) UV light activates the synthesis of vitamin D, which is a prerequisite for the absorption of calcium and other minerals from the diet. Consequently reducing stress on the eyes is more than just reducing annoying symptoms.
Light enters the eye and goes directly the body's biological clock within the hypothalamus in the brain. The hypothalamus is the major nerve center for all hormone-secreting glands, including the pineal, which secretes melatonin. When it gets dark at night, the pineal releases melatonin and the hormone tells you it's time to sleep. When light returns, the pineal shuts off melatonin release. So don't be surprised if you feel more like sleeping during winter months. Many of our furry friends just take the whole winter to sleep using the same melatonin releasing mechanism. Perhaps we need to take a lesson from nature.
Melatonin is considered an anti-aging hormone and no one wants to hasten aging by restricting their daily dose of melatonin. Recent findings from the National Commission on Sleep Disorders have shown that 40 million Americans are chronically ill with sleep disorders. Another 30 million experience intermittent sleep-related problems.(2) Such disorders occur at every age level and are often caused by staying up too late at night. If you're having trouble sleeping, try going to bed earlier and taking 1-3 milligrams of melatonin thirty minutes before retiring.
Try to reduce eyestrain when you're working. Instead of using halogen desk lamps, try the eye-friendly, full-spectrum incandescent bulbs or natural lighting such as Verilux. If possible, replace ceiling fluorescent lights with full spectrum lighting. Look away from your computer screen often and try to spend a few minutes looking out the window. Corrective lenses (particularly tinted) are important, as well.
While our eyes are exposed to free radicals from many sources, eye support supplement formulas can help take care of most eye stress. However, those who work outside or near water would do well to add one 4 mg capsule per day of the natural red carotenoid astaxanthin. This powerful antioxidant pigment is beneficial in protecting against UV light.(4),(5) Additionally, smokers should add 1 capsule per day of ascorbyl palmitate a fat-soluble form of vitamin C that protects the visual apparatus that vitamin C can't. Ascorbyl palmitate may be a better antioxidant in protecting neural tissues than vitamin C.(6)
In Chinese medicine, the liver affects the eyes. This may seem like an odd connection, however weak, dry eyes and poor eyesight can result from liver stress and congestion due to frequent bouts of anger, frustration, poor diet, and buildup of toxins.(7) The eyes love leafy greens and red, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables. In fact, the supplements recommended in this article are concentrates from these foods. A good place to start tonifying and detoxifying the liver is with a daily 'Green Meanie' shake made from NOW's Green Phytofood powder. If you have been overdoing it with alcohol and poor diet, you might consider a one month liver support program that includes NOW’s Silymarin standardized extract caps. The American Botanical Monograph suggests 200 to 400 mg per day. (8) To summarize there are five things you can do to improve your vision and protect your eyes.
1. Avoid excess UV exposure and harsh light in the workplace.
2. Reduce stress and get plenty of sleep. Use melatonin until your sleep pattern is reestablished.
3. Eat plenty of dark leafy greens, red, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables. Get two servings of fatty fish per week, or take a fish oil supplement. Add astaxanthin if you work outdoors.
4. Drink a phytofood beverage and choose Eco-Green for your basic multiple. Do a liver cleanse if needed.
5. Quit smoking and add ascorbyl palmitate.
Aside from the recommendations given above, there are specific things you can do for certain eye conditions.
Cataracts are an opaque or hazy cloud that develops inside the lens of the eye. Nearly half of all individuals will develop cataracts by the time they reach age 65.(3) But it doesn't have to be this way. Cataracts are caused by free radical damage to the proteins in the lens. Smoking, exposure to UV light from snow, on beaches, or in tanning salons hastens the damage. However, the vision formula suggested in addition to ascorbyl palmitate, astaxanthin and vitamin E have been shown to reduce the incidence of cataract.(9),(10),(11),(12)
Glaucoma affects about 3 million Americans and is considered a disease of stress. In many cases, it can result from taking multiple medications. Both cataracts and glaucoma can be the result of long term use of photosensitizing drugs such as gout medications, cholesterol lowering drugs, antibiotics and diuretics. According to ophthalmologist Dr. Robert Abel, the number one condition suffered by glaucoma patients is high blood pressure.(3) Abel's recommendations include eating a diet rich in magnesium and potassium-containing foods such as those mentioned above. He also recommends most of the supplements suggested in this article with the addition of Triphala, a combination of three Ayurvedic fruits -- Amla, Behda, Harada. He has found that it can reduce intra-ocular pressure (a characteristic of glaucoma) by 20 percent.3 NOW Triphala extract contains 45 percent tannins and comes in 1,000 mg tablets. Suggested dosage is 3 tablets per day in divided doses, before meals.
Retinopathy -- This condition is associated with obesity and diabetes, and affects the blood vessels in the retina and the photosensitive layer that covers the eye. Normally leak proof, retinopathy allows small amounts of blood to enter eye fluids. Vitamin C accompanied by bioflavonoids including Pycnogenol or Grape Seed Extract standardized to 90% OPCs, helps strengthen capillary walls and prevent leakage. (13) Dr. Lester Packer, the esteemed University of California biochemist suggests that alpha lipoic acid can address the antioxidant needs of diabetic patients.14 NOW offers ALA in potencies ranging from 100 to 400 mg.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration is the worldwide leading cause of vision loss in people over 50. In the U.S. alone, 10 percent of those over 65 have some AMD and the number of individuals having the condition increases with age. Like the other eye conditions, AMD is preventable. The back of the eye has a small yellow spot called the macula that covers the end of the optic nerve. The macula is yellow because of the carotenoids it contains - specifically lutein and zeaxanthin. Eating lutein and zeaxanthin rich foods can protect this very sensitive area of the eye. Harvard's Dr. Johanna Seddon and her colleagues found that higher intakes of fatty foods and trans fat prevalent in snack foods increased the risk of AMD. Whereas high intake of carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables reduced the risk of AMD.(15) While such a diet is protective, it's never too late to take measures to prevent progression of the condition. Researchers at the National Eye Institute found patients with early stage AMD who took supplements containing lutein and zeaxanthin reduced disease progression by 20 percent. Why not start before problems arise?
1 Liberman, J: Light Medicine of the Future Santa Fe, NM 1991 pp. 25, 141.
3 Abel, R: The Eye Care Revolution New York NY Kensington Books 1999 pp 41-42.
4 O'Connor, I: O'Brien, N: Modulation of UVA Light-Induced Oxidative Stress by B-Carotene, Lutein, Astaxanthin in Cultured Fibroblasts J Dermatol Sci 1998: 16:226-230.
5 Oshima, S: et al: Inhibitory Effect of B-Carotone and Astaxanthin on Photosensitized Oxidation of Phospholipid Bilayers J Nutr Sci Vitaminol 1993:39:607-615.
6 Pokorski, M: et al: Ascorbyl Palmitate as a Carrier of Ascorbate into Neural Tissues J Biomed Sci 2003:10:193-8.
7 Maciocia, Giovanni: The Foundations of Chinese Medicine Edinburgh, Scotland Churchill Livingstone 1989 pp 77-81.
8 Blumenthal, M: et al: The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs Austin TX American Botanical Council 2003 pp 287-296.
9 Valero, MP: et al: Vitamin C is Associated with Reduced Risk of Cataract in a Mediterranean Population J Nutr 2002:132:1299-306.
10 Carotenoids and Protection of Phospholipids in Solution or in Liposomes Against Oxidation by Peroxyl Radicals: Relationship Between Carotenoid Structure and Protective Ability Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 1997:1336:575-586.
11 Lyle, BJ: et al: Serum Carotenoids and Tocopherols and Incidence of Age-Related Nuclear Cataract Am J Clin Nutr 1999:69:272-7.
12 Seddon, JM: et al: The Use of Vitamin Supplements and the Risk of Cataract Among US Male Physicians Am J Public Health 1994:84:788-92.
13 Packer, L: The Antioxidant Miracle New York NY John Wiley & Sons 1999 pp 118-132.
14 Packer, L: Molecular Aspects of Lipoic Acid in the Prevention of Diabetes Complications Nutrition 2001:17:888-95.
15 Seddon, JM: et al: Dietary Carotenoids, Vitamins A, C, and E, and Advanced Age-Related Macular Degeneration JAMA 1994:272:1455-6.