Here's Lookin' At You, Through Healthy Eyes
Antioxidants, found in vegetables, are essential to vision health.
It is hard to argue with the idea that out of all the five senses, humans rely on vision the most. We use our eyes to process information conveyed through the written word.
Painters work with color and shapes to provoke emotional reactions from art lovers. Even when holding a conversation, visual cues—such as eye contact and body language—are important aspects of communication with another individual.
So it is no wonder that as people age, one of the things they dread is failing vision health. Eyes grow tired while reading. Loved ones start to look blurry. The room may seem too dark, even with the lights on.
These can be major concerns as we grow older because a large part of staying healthy and independent is being able to see the world around us.
But the passage of time, in and of itself, is not responsible for the effects of aging on the eyes. It is what we are exposed to during the course of that time—food, environmental toxins and so on—that could hurt our vision.
Luckily, you do not have to be kept in the dark about how to take care of your eyes throughout the years!
Look out for free radicals
As you age, your body accumulates damage from exposure to free radicals. These are compounds that can have negative effects on the integrity of your cells and DNA. Free radicals can come from environmental sources, such as pollution, or simply from the natural process of metabolizing food into fuel.
When it comes to the eyes, two major sources of free radicals are ultraviolet (UV) radiation and smoking. UV radiation is energy that comes from the sun. While it can help the body produce vitamin D, it can also have negative effects on the skin and eyes, particularly when these organs are light-colored.
Previous studies have also suggested that smoking may increase the likelihood of developing certain age-related vision problems by up to three times. However, smoking cessation may reverse some of these effects.
Watch your weight
Believe it or not, your weight can influence the health of your eyes. People who are heavier tend to have problems controlling their blood sugar and blood pressure. Abnormally high levels of both of these factors can have negative effects on the blood vessels of the eye, potentially hurting the retina, lens and other structures.
This can be particularly worrisome in light of the fact that two-thirds of Americans are considered to be either overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Other government sources estimate that more than 28 percent of people who have chronic difficulty controlling their blood sugar eventually develop vision problems.
What can you do?
There are many antioxidants that could help combat the effects of free radicals. When it comes to the eyes, the most important antioxidants are lutein, zeaxanthin and vitamins C and E.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are present in foods such as corn, eggs and green leafy vegetables, including kale, spinach, collards and turnip greens.
Vitamin C, which helps promote healthy blood vessels, can be found in citrus fruit and vegetables such as spinach and kale.
The antioxidant vitamin E helps maintain healthy cell membranes and is present in wheat germ, almonds, sunflower seeds and vegetable oils.
Speaking of oils, omega-3 essential fatty acids can also promote vision health. Several studies suggest that this nutrient, found in fish oil, is vital to the development and function of the eyes.
The mineral zinc helps the eyes use vitamin A in order to produce a pigment to protect the eyes from UV radiation. Dietary sources of zinc include tofu, eggs, milk and seafood, particularly oysters.
Supplements can also be used to provide adequate amounts of these nutrients.
You can obtain further protection from UV radiation by wearing sunglasses. The National Eye Institute recommends looking for products that block 99 to 100 percent of UV-A and UV-B rays.
When it comes to maintaining a healthy weight, remember your exercise! The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity—or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity—per week.
And if you smoke, there's no better time than the present to quit.
Follow these tips, and things will start looking up for your vision health!