Sunlight is critical for overall well-being. Through an intricate process it enables the body to produce essential vitamin D. We only need 20 minutes of sunlight a day. But sunlight also contains UV radiation.
Unprotected over exposure to sunlight can eventually result in oxidative damage to the retina and other eye tissue such as the eye lens and sclera causing many eye problems as well as skin cancer. You can help protect your eyes by wearing 100% UVA/UVB protecting sunglasses when outside (particularly wraparound glasses with amber or brown lenses that are polarized to reduce glare).
It is well known that UV radiation exposure is a major contributing factor in the development of both dry and wet (advanced) macular degeneration. Now, yet another large-sized and long-term study verifies this problem.
Researchers at Radboud University have found a strong association between past sunlight exposure and age-related macular degeneration (ARMD or AMD). Seniors who had exposure to sunlight for 8 hours a day before retirement were five times more likely to develop macular degeneration. Current sunlight exposure and eye color had no association. This study underlines the value of wearing sunglasses in sunlight at all stages of life.
The study had almost 2,000 subjects with macular degeneration and a control group around the same size.1 Researchers controlled for age and gender. Also, since smoking doubles the risk of ARMD, the calculations took tobacco habits into account. Subjects were categorized by former occupation type and how much they had worked outdoors.
In the study, patients who spent 8 hours per day outdoors in their working lives were 5.54 times more likely to have early AMD. Outdoor workers were 2.77 more likely to have the more advanced Wet AMD.
What is Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration is the gradual breakdown of the macula. A small, yellowish area of the retina called the macula is responsible for sharp, central vision. ARMD occurs mostly in seniors, and it is degenerative. Symptoms: lines look distorted or wavy (see Amsler Test); blurry, fuzzy, hazy central vision; dim colors; difficulty reading; blank or dark areas; and foggy or cloudy central vision. In early AMD (dry), fatty deposits which are normally produced and reabsorbed in heathy eyes accumulate in the macula. These fatty deposits are called “drusen.” Dry AMD is thought to be caused by inefficient waste-clearing, poor circulation, and/or lack of availability of essential nutrients needed by the retina to maintain optimal health. The more serious wet form of AMD means that new blood vessels are forming near the macula. These blood vessels leak and untreated can cause significant damage to central vision.
Eye Color Pigment Protects the Retina
The pigment in the iris of the eye is designed to protect the eye from sun damage. UV radiation causes the pigmented layer to become thinner so that it is less effective at protecting the retina from damage. Blue-pigmented eyes are the most vulnerable to UV damage; dark-pigmented eyes provide the most protection. However, this study found no association between eye color and macular degeneration. Therefore, all outdoor workers and people spending extended time outdoors – summer or winter – should wear protective sunglasses and a brimmed hat to help prevent future eye disease.
Cataracts, like skin cancer, are linked with UV radiation exposure.
In a review of data (more than 686,000 people, six years) scientists found a close association between people who have skin cancer and onset of cataracts. This led the researchers to conclude that cataract, like skin cancer is associated with UV exposure.[D. Varssano, M. Friedman, et al, Association between Cataract and Keratinocytic Skin Cancers or Melanoma: Speculating on the Common Role of Sun and Ultraviolet Radiation Exposures, Ophthalmic Epidemiology, March, 2017.]
Structural proteins, “beta/gamma-crystallins” make up the lens of the eye. They maintain lens clarity. However, there are several specific mutations which cause these special proteins to destabilize and become cloudy. UV radiation causes mutations in these proteins.2
Other Eye Diseases
It increasingly appears that oxidative damage to the different parts of the eye may be a direct cause of most eye diseases.
While some eye diseases have a genetic origin, it is still seen that oxidative stress increases the risk factor. Damage by oxidation not only causes free radicals to form but directly damages components of retinal tissue cells, nerve cells, pigmentation cells, etc. Consequently, signaling pathways by which the eye communicates with the brain are damaged so that vision can be distorted or blocked in a number of ways. 3
Oxidative stress contributes, either directly or indirectly, to dry eye syndrome, corneal and conjunctive diseases, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa, uveitis, and ocular cancer.
Sunlight and UV Radiation
Sunlight is crucial to health. It activates essential processes in the body; it also helps ward off depression. However, over exposure to ultra-violet A, ultra-violet B and blue light over time from the sun damages pretty much all parts of the eyes resulting or significantly contributing to a host of eye conditions. Computers and mobile devices also emit blue light.
At Natural Eye Care, Inc. , we emphasize the importance of preventing eye disease through lifestyle, diet, nutrition and targeted supplementation. Antioxidants help prevent oxidative stress. These include lutein, zeaxanthin, mesozeaxanthin, bilberry and astaxanthin. Colored fruit and vegetables provide particularly great antioxidants for retinal and overall eye health.
We recommend that you be sure to wear 100% UVA/UVB blocking sunglasses with a brimmed hat when you are outdoors.
It would also be a good idea to supplement your diet with vision-friendly antioxidants such as those contained in our Advanced Eye & Vision Formula (essential lutein and zeaxanthin). You can additionally supplement with krill oil which contains astaxanthin or we have several astaxanthin supplements.
Up Next: See our page on Macular Degeneration
- T. Schick, L. Ersoy, et al, Retina. April, 2016, History Of Sunlight Exposure Is A Risk Factor For Age-Related Macular Degeneration. ↩
- W.J. Zhao, J. Xu, et al, Effects of cataract-causing mutations W59C and W151C on ßB2-crystallin structure, stability and folding, International Journal of Biological Macromolecules, May, 2017. ↩
- J. Kruk, K. Kubasik-Kladna, et al, The Role Oxidative Stress in the Pathogenesis of Eye Diseases: Current Status and a Dual Role of Physical Activity, Mini Reviews in Medical Chemistry, 2015. ↩