Inflammation is a factor in many eye diseases, and what you eat affects inflammation. Whenever major holidays comes along, we are tempted to eat special foods. Many of these treats are high in calories and sugar, which contribute to inflammation. While you don’t want to spoil anyone’s fun, you can choose to eat foods that are anti-inflammatory. At the end of this article, you will find tips for limiting the damage while still enjoying the holiday.
The Dangers of Inflammation
Inflammation can be acute or chronic.
Acute inflammation occurs when, for example, you sprain your wrist. The joint becomes swollen, red, and painful. This type of inflammation is part of the healing process. The body is trying to remove damaged cells, debris, toxins and pathogens from the injured area.
Chronic inflammation affects the entire body at the cellular level. This results in abnormal electrical activity that hampers cellular performance and causes oxidative damage. Inflammation and the resulting oxidative damage are implicated in many diseases, ranging from hardening of the arteries1 to eye diseases such as cataracts, uveitis, inflammatory glaucoma, and Wet Macular Degeneration.
Chronic inflammation is detectable using blood tests. C-Reactive Protein or CRP measures a protein that indicates the inflammatory response. CRP should be below 1 or, ideally, 0. A high fasting blood insulin level may indicate chronic inflammation.
Risk factors for chronic, systemic inflammation include:
- overweight or obesity
- lack of exercise
- sleep disorders
- age (middle-aged and older)
- low sex hormones
- excessive alcohol consumption
- poor eating habits (fatty meats, white flour, and sugary foods instead of fruits, lean protein, whole grains, and vegetables).
Measurable indicators of a higher risk of chronic inflammation include:
- high blood pressure
- high LDL (bad) cholesterol
- C-Reactive Protein greater than 1
- high fasting blood insulin level
Many eye diseases are linked to chronic, systemic inflammation, poor circulation, and insufficient nutrients reaching the eye.
Inflammation, Heart Disease, and Retinal Vein Occlusion
Heart disease creeps up on people as they age. Younger people who are obese can also start to show the signs of heart disease. Regular doctor visits, family history, blood pressure measurements, and blood tests will reveal warning signs. You should never ignore these signs. Heart disease is the cause of one-third of deaths in the United States.2
Lifestyle changes are crucial to reducing the risk of heart disease, and even reversing it in some cases. Regular exercise, avoiding smoking, reducing alcohol, and eating a nutritious diet are crucial. The doctor may prescribe medication that should be taken as directed.
The risk factors for hardening of the arteries are almost the same as for chronic inflammation. Researchers are closely studying the causes of chronic inflammation and how to control it. Controlling chronic inflammation could be key to longevity and a full life as we age.
Atherosclerosis is also called “hardening of the arteries.” It is the build-up of plaque in the arteries. The plaque, made partially from cholesterol, hardens and causes the arteries to narrow. Organs become starved for oxygen, leading to stroke, coronary heart disease, chronic kidney disease and more.
Retinal vein occlusion is when atherosclerosis affects the eyes. The veins that drain blood from the eye become blocked. The system develops a hemorrhage, damaging the retina. Vision loss is sudden and can be permanent. Any sudden changes in vision need immediate medical attention.
Uveitis: Eye Inflammation
Uveitis refers to a group of inflammatory eye conditions. Often, the diagnosis includes a modifier such as anterior, posterior, intermediate, panuveitis, infectious, non-infectious, etc. Uveitis mostly affects adults aged 20 to 50.
The uvea is composed of the choroid, ciliary body, and iris. Inflammation in any part of the uvea can damage the retina, lens, vitreous and optic nerve, leading to vision loss. Symptoms include sudden blurring, floaters, eye redness or pain, and photophobia.
Causes include an autoimmune response, inflammatory disease, infections, tumors, bruises, and toxins that enter the eye. Treatments include anti-inflammatory medication and addressing any underlying diseases.
The list of diseases associated with uveitis is lengthy. It includes rheumatoid arthritis, reactive arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. Uveitis can lead to cataracts, elevated intraocular pressure, glaucoma, clouding of the cornea, retinal swelling, and retinal detachment.
Since uveitis has so many potential causes, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the first line of defense.
Around 1 in 5 patients with uveitis develop inflammatory glaucoma. As a result of the anterior uvea swelling, the trabecular meshwork becomes clogged. This may be reversible or chronic.
Optic Neuritis: Inflamed Optic Nerve
The optic nerve sends electrical impulses from the eyes to the brain. When the optic nerve is inflamed, vision becomes blurred. Optic neuritis is sometimes the first symptom of multiple sclerosis. Autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis are linked to optic neuritis. Diabetics are also susceptible to optic neuritis. Pain behind the eyes when moving the eyes is the most common symptom, but there are many other signs of optic neuritis. Other symptoms include: tender, sore eyes, enlarged central blind spot or mild to severe reduction in vision, blurred vision, decreased peripheral vision and/or color perception, headache, fever, and possibly nausea.
Type II Diabetes can usually be avoided or controlled by maintaining a doctor-recommended weight, exercising regularly and eating right.
Blepharitis: Lid Inflammation
When the eyelid feels swollen, itchy, irritated, or crusty, the diagnosis may be blepharitis. Other symptoms include redness and blurred vision. This acute inflammation has several causes. The condition can occur along with styes and chalazions. A skilled eye doctor can diagnosis blepharitis.
Good lid hygiene helps treat and prevent blepharitis. Thus, people who are prone to this problem should clean their eyelids eyes daily using baby shampoo. See our video about baby shampoo cleaning.
Inflammation and Cataracts
Cataracts is the clouding of the eye’s lens. Many seniors elect to have the lens with the cataract replaced by an artificial lens. A study linked inflammation and oxidization with cataracts.3 They compared biomarkers of inflammation against women with and without cataracts. Those with cataracts had higher indicators of inflammation.
Arthritis and Inflammatory Eye Disease
Connective tissue diseases such as arthritis can affect the eyes. Depending on the primary disease, patients may be more at risk of retinal detachment, keratoconus, or uveitis. Rheumatoid arthritis is linked to corneal melt, scleritis, and scleromalacia perforans.4
Holiday Food Tips
Eating, drinking and being merry for a couple of days a year makes little difference to your health. So long as you do not indulge in a black-out drinking or eating of unhealthy food binge, enjoy! The daily habits are more important.
The problem is that for many people, the holidays run continuously for five weeks. The constant presence of extra sweets and rich foods can do damage. Excess sugar and fat lead aggravate chronic inflammation. Typical weight gain during the holidays is 1 pound. However, this pound is usually not shed later. Thus, after 15 years, that’s 15 extra pounds! Anti-inflammatory tips:
- Fill up on raw vegetable sticks before tucking into higher-calorie foods.
- Frequent snacking adds up. Eat at mealtimes. If you are obligated to snack, limit it to a few bites.
- Avoid vegetables drenched in cream, oils, and sugar. Opt for steamed vegetables instead.
- Anything surrounded by pastry is high in fat and calories. Thus, just taste one or skip it.
- Pecan pie has almost twice as many calories as pumpkin pie, and far more sugar. Discretely look up the nutrient content on your phone once you know the menu.
- Restrict yourself to just one serving of dessert, or two small servings.
- Look for anti-inflammatory foods like leafy green vegetables, nuts, olive oil, fatty fish, fruits and tomatoes.
- Never over-eat.
- American Heart Association https://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Inflammation-and-Heart-Disease_UCM_432150_Article.jsp#.WhMmjVWnGUk ↩
- American Heart Association ↩
- Antioxid Redox Signal. 2014 Aug 10;21(5):700-4. doi: 10.1089/ars.2014.5853. Epub 2014 Mar 14. Are increased levels of systemic oxidative stress and inflammation associated with age-related cataract? Selin JZ et. al. ↩
- Arthritis and inflammatory eye disease. R. C. Bucknall. Rheumatology, Volume 44, Issue 10, 1 October 2005, Pages 1207–1209, https://doi.org/10.1093/rheumatology/kei027 Published: 23 August 2005 ↩