Middle-aged people and seniors are far more likely to develop Macular Degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy than those in their youth. It is true that some eye diseases strike the young. These tend to be genetically-based diseases, and they are rare. The incidence of eye diseases in the United States goes up dramatically with age:
- Juvenile Macular Degeneration refers to inherited eye diseases such as Stargardt’s disease, juvenile retinoschisis and Best disease, and it is rare. Age-Related Macular Denegation it affects 2 million Americans over age 50 (approximately 1% of this population).1
- Congenital cataracts occur in 0.4% of babies and is usually corrected in infancy. It occasionally affects young people for other reasons. However, 25 million Americans over age 40 are estimated to have cataracts (17%)2.
- Diabetic retinopathy is a risk for anyone with Type I or Type II diabetes. Nearly eight million diabetics over age 40 have diabetic retinopathy (5%)3. These numbers are expected to rise with increases in Type II diabetes due to obesity.
- Childhood glaucoma strikes 1 in 8,000 children (0.01% of children)[x. Glaucoma Research Foundation. “Glaucoma Can Strike At All Ages, Even Newborn Babies” glaucoma.org] But almost three million Americans over age 40 have glaucoma (2% of this population)4.
These numbers do not distinguish between individuals with one eye disease versus several eye diseases. Having more than one eye disease is a potentially devastating situation everyone should avoid when possible. One’s lifestyle (diet, exercise, management of stress, targeted supplements) can go a long way in help prevent or reduce the risk of onset of eye disease.
Why Aging Affects the Eyes
Our ancestors had a short life expectancy. If starvation, accidents, exposure, and contagious diseases didn’t finish you off by age 40, your body might be worn out, and you were considered “old.” Today’s conditions mean many of us can live well into our 70’s and beyond. The key to living healthy, long lives is reversing the effects of aging.
Cumulative damage from lifetime habits start to catch up with you over age 40. For example, lifetime sunlight (UV light) exposure is a risk factor for cataracts and macular degeneration.
Weight management becomes increasingly difficult with age. Extra fat holds estrogen, encouraging easy additional weight gain. A moderately active 21-year-old female needs 2,200 calories a day; a similar 51-year-old needs just 1,800 calories (400 fewer calories). The same comparison for males is also 400 fewer calories (2,800 versus 2,400).5 A cumulative factor also comes into play: gaining just a few extra pounds a year adds up if left unchecked. Extra weight is a risk factor for Type II diabetes, which can cause diabetic retinopathy.
Heart health becomes more important with each advancing year. Middle-aged people tend to start accumulating fat deposit in the arteries, leading to atherosclerosis (often referred to as “hardening of the arteries”). This can lead eye conditions such as retinal vein occlusion, glaucoma and macular degeneration. A retinal vein occlusion can result sudden vision loss that leaves permanent damage. Good circulation is needed to provide the eyes (heart and brain) with crucial nutrients. Exercise and proper nutrition are important to many aspects of health.
Nutrition absorption reduces with age. The digestive system becomes less efficient because the stomach has less hydrochloric acid, we produce less enzymes needed to break down food. Also, hormonal changes may cause the body to excrete more nutrients. In addition to eating a healthy diet, seniors need to consider supplementation (vitamins and other essential nutrients). Supplementing with enzymes and pro-biotics can improve absorption. The eye requires a large amount of the nutrients we take into our body to meet the needs for maintaining healthy vision. It is the second-most physiologically part of the body next to the brain. This means that the eyes’ nutritional needs are disproportionally high compared to their size.
Eye Diseases to Watch Out For
People over age 40 need to know symptoms of common eye diseases and their risk factors. Mitigating risk factor can go a long way in supporting healthy vision and aging healthfully.
A cataracts is the clouding of the eye’s lens. Symptoms can include vision gradually becoming blurred and hazy, increased sensitivity to glare, compromised nighttime vision and colors looking dim. It can affect depth perception, increasing the risk of seniors falling. Risk factors include: cumulative exposure to ultraviolet light (sunlight), smoking, diabetes, poor circulation, poor nutrition or nutritional deficiencies; chronic physical stress such as tight muscles or ongoing pain; more than 1 alcoholic drink per day; extra weight; and certain drugs and toxins.6
While cataracts are the #1 cause of vision loss in the world, most Americans have access to very effective and safe cataract surgery. In a short surgery usually done under local anesthetic, the clouded lens is replaced with an artificial lens.
However, not everyone can get this surgery. Some don’t have insurance or cannot afford the deductible for Medicare. Certain heart problems can disqualify a patient for cataracts surgery. Prior retinal detachment or bleeding may contraindicate the surgery. And on rare occasions, the surgery has complications.
Therefore, preventing cataracts or slowing its growth can be beneficial. Wearing amber UV-A/UV-B wrap-around polarized sunglasses while outside reduces the risk of cataract onset and macular degeneration. Cineraria is a homeopathic formulation aimed at supporting the lens and encouraging lymph flow in and around the eye to remove toxins.7 See more ideas on the Lens Support Page.
Called “the silent thief,” glaucoma gradually steals peripheral vision until the patient or the eye doctor notice. The optic nerve, which sends vision information to the brain, is damaged. Often there is an increase in intraocular pressure that causes the glaucoma (open angle glaucoma), but not always. The nerves are mechanically compressed and/or have restricted blood flow, causing vision loss if not treated.
Risk factors include: trauma; certain drugs; heavy computer use; low thyroid; poor circulation, chronic stress, genetics; high mercury/low magnesium; low estrogen; and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Eye doctors usually prescribe medicated drops, but these do not address circulation problems that may be at the root of glaucoma. Vitamins and supplements can be taken to support the optic nerve.
While Age-Related Macular Degeneration only affects 1% of seniors, it can be devastating to quality of life. Central vision can ultimately degenerate to the point that the patient can no longer read, watch TV, drive, cook, do hobbies or safely navigate. Seniors with advanced ARMD often need constant day-to-day help. The macula is a yellowish area on the retina that is rich in the antioxidants including lutein and zeaxanthin. Be sure to eat plenty of leafy green vegetables and other foods containing lutein, zeaxanthin and other antioxidants (green leafy vegetables, peppers of different color and fruits, particularly berries are great for eye health). Risk factors include: genetics, smoking; poor circulation, free radicals; hypertension; poor digestion; low carotenoid intake; systemic inflammation; diabetes; and certain drugs including NSAIDs.
While only 6% of diabetics lose their sight, all diabetics need regular eye exams to check for diabetic retinopathy. Unstable blood sugar levels damage the retina, causing microaneurysms, occluding capillaries that provide nutrients to the retina, and sometimes causing new, fragile capillaries to grow (and leak). Managing weight and diet, taking recommended medications and strictly managing blood sugar levels through lifestyle choices are crucial to cutting or eliminating this risk.
What To Do
While you cannot control your age, you can control many risk factors for eye disease.
If other family members have had a certain eye disease (for example, macular degeneration or glaucoma), your risks may be higher. Take steps before any eye disease develops to prevent it.
Things you CAN control:
- Eat a healthy diet. The Mediterranean Diet is considered one of the best for eye health. Favor foods that support vision health.
- Exercise. Walk at least 30 minutes per day at a bare minimum. You need cardio, stretching and strength training.
- Smoking. Don’t smoke. Links between smoking and eye disease are well established.
- Wear sunglasses outdoors in sunlight.
- Do eye exercises to increase circulation and strength.
- Take supplements aimed specifically at supporting the eye.
- Eat fish and take a good quality fish oil. Omega-3 fatty acids are important to vision health.
- Get an eye exam every 1 to 2 years. The Amsler test screens for Macular Degeneration at home.
Defying the ravages of time means taking care of your vision. Simple lifestyle changes can make a significant different in vision and quality of life.
- Prevalence of Adult Vision Impairment and Age-Related Eye Diseases in America. National Eye Institute (NEI). Reviewed April 2016. Based on 2010 U.S. Census population. Total Population ≥ 40 = 142,648,393. ↩
- NEI ↩
- NEI ↩
- NEI ↩
- Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Estimated Calorie Needs per Day by Age, Gender, and Physical Activity Level ↩
- See cataracts page ↩
- https://www.naturaleyecare.com/study.asp?s_num=423 ↩