As we age, our chances of developing a serious vision problem increase significantly. More than half of people over the age of 70 years old have an eye condition such as cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration; people with diabetes often develop diabetic retinopathy. These limiting conditions decrease the quality of life. Being a retired senior means having time to enjoy life, read, travel, play golf, enjoy hobbies, and socialize with friends and family. However, participating in these activities requires clear vision.
We can learn to help preserve our vision and to become active participants in our own vision care. At Natural Eye Care, we offer a practical approach to vision care that emphasizes prevention.
When a senior visits the eye doctor, they often hear:
- “You have the beginning of a cataract. Let’s wait until it ‘ripens’ (gets worse) and then we will remove it surgically” or
- “I’m sorry, you have macular degeneration” or “You have glaucoma.” And then, “We’ll watch it and try to keep it under control.”
What is really needed is prevention, education, and rehabilitation. There is no reason why we can’t keep our eyes younger.
Medication and surgery may sometimes be necessary and appropriate ways to maintain vision. The recommendations I make here are intended to be used as an adjunct to these traditional treatments of vision problems.
My philosophy is that people are more than an interesting set of symptoms that must be treated with the proper drug or surgery. We function on several levels: emotional, spiritual, and physical. We should take all of these levels into consideration. Merely treating the physical symptoms of the condition does not address how that condition impacts and emerges from all levels of your being.
Let’s start with nutrition. More than 25% of the nutrients we absorb from our food go to nourish the visual system. Eating whole, unprocessed foods is crucial. Most processed foods have fewer nutrients; also, preservatives make the nutrients difficult to absorb. Relying on single supplements to compensate for a bad diet is a fallacy. The body does not use each vitamin or mineral in isolation.
I recommend the Mediterranean Diet. This is a proven nutrition program and not a fad weight-loss scheme. The Mediterranean Diet includes whole grains (brown rice, millet, spelt and buckwheat), sea vegetables (dulse, nori, and hijiki because they are high in minerals), fresh fruits and vegetables. Click for our Mediterranean Diet page and infographic.
Be sure to eat a wide variety of vegetables for vision health. Red, orange, and yellow pigmented fruits, and green leafy vegetables contain carotenoids. This group of lipids is crucial to vision health. Specifically, include kale, collard greens and spinach in the diet. These leafy vegetables have large amounts of lutein. Lutein is a carotenoid that helps protect the eye’s macula and lens.
No matter how wholesome and pure our food might be, there are factors that affect its nutrient content. The nutritional value of food depends on:
• How it is grown,
• how it is stored, and
• how it is cooked.
Your age, health, activity level and stress also can affect what your body needs and how well it uses the nutrients from your diet. This is where supplements come in. I routinely recommend vitamin and mineral supplements to my patients.
Both eye exercises and physical exercises are extremely important in the treatment and prevention of eye conditions. Exercise raises oxygen levels in the cells and increases lymph and blood circulation. This increased circulation revitalizes the organs and glands and speeds up detoxification of the body. I recommend that you gently build up to aerobic exercise for a minimum of 20 minutes per day, four days a week. We offer a free eye exercise e-book you can download.
The following are some important tips to keep our eyes vibrant and alive.
- Don’t keep your eyes focused in one place for a sustained period. Change your focus, look up and out a window if possible, just keep your eyes moving, sustained contraction of the eyes leads to contraction of the entire upper body. And don’t stare as this also causes tension in the visual system.
- Get at least 20 minutes of natural sunlight a day, minimum. The eyes are light-sensing organs. It is important to get sunlight so that they can work optimally. Sunlight acts as a nutrient to the eyes. When it is sunny, wear UV-protective sunglasses to protect your eyes from damaging sun rays. Sunlight has been implicated as a possible cause of macular degeneration and cataracts.
- Don’t smoke. Tobacco smoke is probably the number-one eye irritant. Smokers have a 50 to 100 percent increased risk for every eye disease.
- Avoid sugar. Sugar depletes the body of the nutrients the eyes need.
- Avoid excessive use of alcohol. It causes stress to the liver which is where Vitamin A is processed.
Supplements for Vision Health
The most important supplements for eye health are:
- Vitamin C: This can both prevent and help heal cataracts. In parts of Europe and Asia, vitamin C is considered a routine treatment for glaucoma, because it lowers eye pressure. Vitamin C also acts as a natural UV filter for the eyes, which helps slow the aging process in the retina. People with low levels of Vitamin C have two to three times the risk of macular degeneration. We recommend 2,000 mg of Vitamin C per day.
- Lutein and zeaxanthin: These two carotenoids appear to reduce your risk of macular degeneration. Eating a serving of spinach once a day was enough to lower risk by 46 percent, according to a Harvard University study. We recommend 6 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin per day for prevention, and 10mg-20 mg per day if you have macular degeneration, as well at 2mg – 4mg minimum of zeaxanthin per day.
- Bilberry: There have been over 40 years of research confirming bilberry‘s benefits for the eyes. This fruit extract can improve night vision, relieve visual fatigue, and protect the eyes from glaucoma and macular degeneration. We recommend 120 mg for prevention and 240 mg if you have an eye condition.
- Beta-carotene (provitamin A): low levels of beta-carotene will almost double your risk of macular degeneration and cataracts. In parts of the world where Vitamin A deficiency is widespread, people get severe dry eyes which can lead to blindness. We recommend 5,000 I.U. per day. If you have a thyroid condition or diabetes, check with your doctor before starting this supplement as you may have trouble converting beta-carotene to Vitamin A.
We believe that by taking a preventative approach, combined with the strengths of modern-day Western medicine, we can help preserve our precious gift of sight.
About the Author
Dr. Grossman, OD, L.Ac. is one of the leading holistic eye doctors, has been in practice for over 27 years, and is the author of a number of 5 books on natural eye care including the following: co-author of Magic Eye – A 3D Guide (Andrews and McMeel, 1995), Natural Vision Care – An Encyclopedia (Keats Publishing) printed in April, 1999 (out of print), Greater Vision (McGraw Hill) printed in September, 2001 (revised in 2007), and “Natural Eye Care: A Comprehensive Manual for Practitioners of Oriental Medicine”, which is a 230-page manual describing both the Western and Eastern approaches to preserving eyesight for over 20 specific eye conditions. His newest book was released in June, 2004 and is entitled Beyond 3D : Improve Your Vision with Magic Eye by Marc Grossman (Author), Magic Eye Inc. (Author), and his most recent book Natural Vision Care: Your Guide to Healthy Vision (Vision Works Media Services, Inc.) printed in November, 2007
Dr. Grossman lectures nationally on topics such as Natural Vision Improvement, Vision and Nutrition, Psycho-Emotional Aspects of Visual Conditions, Vision & Learning, Holistic Integrative Visual Therapy, and Chinese Medicine and Vision Care. Point. For more information, call (888) 735-8475.