Food As Medicine
Clearing the Lens: The Critical Connection Between Vision & Nutrition
Thinking back to when I was in 4th or 5th grade, I can remember the day we had our vision tests at school. It involved charts with different size numbers and letters as well as questions asking, “Which view is better, 1 or 2?” Afterward, I was one of the students pulled to the side and given a letter stating I needed to follow up with an eye doctor. I didn’t pass the initial vision test. Even though I knew my vision was slowly getting worse and I was having difficulty seeing the chalkboard at the front of the class, I was so disappointed, a little angry, but mainly afraid to be told I needed glasses. I was worried that classmates would tease me for wearing glasses. Also, I was very active in sports then, and wearing glasses would have been inconvenient and, at times, a hazard. My mom eventually took me to the eye doctor, and it was then that I found out I would require corrective lenses to help my vision. Fortunately, I discovered that I could use contact lenses instead of glasses. After a little bit of an adjustment period, I was able to transition to wearing contact lenses full-time. I’m sure my story is similar to what other children experience. Not only are children affected by worsening eyesight, but vision can continue to deteriorate with age, leading to macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma.
According to the CDC, approximately 6.8% of children younger than age 18 in the United States have a diagnosed eye and vision condition. Nearly 3% of children younger than age 18 are blind or visually impaired, defined as having trouble seeing even when wearing glasses or contact lenses. Approximately 12 million people 40 years and over in the United States have vision impairment. Vision disability is one of the top 10 disabilities among adults 18 years and older and one of the most prevalent disabling conditions among children. Given that vision impairment affects people of all ages, everyone can benefit from healthier lifestyle changes to improve and prevent further damage to their eyes.
Lifestyle changes and healthy habits that can impact eye health include limiting sun exposure, reducing screen time, avoiding smoking, increasing physical activity, and prioritizing nutrition. Let’s focus on some specific nutrients that are most beneficial for vision.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin
Numerous plants include the phytonutrients lutein and zeaxanthin, which are members of the carotenoid family. Many fruits and vegetables have beautiful vibrant colors because of carotenoids. Interestingly, the pigments lutein and zeaxanthin are also present in the retina of our eyes. Not so surprising is that we must obtain these nutrients from what we eat. Leafy green vegetables, such as kale, spinach, broccoli, parsley, basil, and lettuce, are ideal sources of lutein and zeaxanthin. When consumed with a high-fat meal, lutein is more easily absorbed. Therefore, supplement your leafy greens with healthy fats like avocado, nuts, and seeds. Although eating a healthy diet is typically the best method to get these nutrients, supplements are also available.
Vitamin C and E
The body produces free radicals as a result of metabolism as well as exposure to toxins and pollution. Vitamins C and E are powerful antioxidants that protect the body from these harmful molecules. Fatty acids are highly concentrated in the retina of our eyes and are more susceptible to damage by free radicals. When vitamins C and E encounter a free radical, they attach to it to neutralize it. As a result, the vitamin’s molecule changes, losing its ability to act as an antioxidant. But vitamin C can boost vitamin E’s ability to rebuild its antioxidant capacity. As a result, these two nutrients support one another as well as the health of your eyes. Citrus, green leafy vegetables, and berries are excellent sources of vitamin C. Vitamin E can be found in nuts and seeds.
The cornea, lens, retina, and anterior chamber of the eye all contain significant amounts of magnesium. It prevents dry eye, infections and is essential for maintaining the structure of the eye. High levels of the neurotransmitter glutamate can be toxic to our retina and optic nerve. However, magnesium can prevent glutamate release and safeguard eye health. Have you ever experienced eye twitching? This could be one of the signs of low magnesium. Adequate amounts of magnesium can help reduce eye twitching since it is a muscle relaxer. On the other hand, high doses of magnesium, specifically magnesium hydroxide, can have a laxative effect. Focusing on dietary sources of magnesium such as dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds rather than obtaining this nutrient from supplements will help ensure you don’t get too much.
At almost every eye appointment since I started wearing contacts, my vision would be slightly worse, and my prescription would always get stronger. In hindsight, if I had known the benefits of lifestyle changes on your vision, I could have slowed down the rate of my vision loss. Now that I am aware, I’ll focus on foods that contain beneficial nutrients for my eyes. After all, our eyes are remarkable organs that enable us to perceive the world around us, and taking care of them should be a top priority. Through regular eye exams, adopting healthy lifestyle habits, and protecting our eyes from potential harm, we can significantly reduce the risk of vision problems and maintain optimal eye health. Remember, our eyes are precious, and by implementing these practices, we can safeguard them and enjoy clear vision for years to come. Enjoy a meal full of leafy greens, berries, nuts, and seeds. Your eyes will thank you!
1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, December 19). Fast facts of common eye disorders. Centers forDisease Control and Prevention. www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/basics/ced/fastfacts.htm
2 Fraley, L. (2020, November 17). Lutein for eyes: Benefits for vision and Eye Health. Healthline. www.healthline.com/health/lutein-for-eyes#about-lutein
3 Alexis, A. C. (2021, October 12). Zeaxanthin: Health benefits and Top Food Sources. Healthline. www.healthline.com/nutrition/zeaxanthin#top-food-sources
4 Rasmussen, H. M., & Johnson, E. J. (2013). Nutrients for the aging eye. Clinical interventions in aging, 8, 741–748. https://doi.org/10.2147/CIA.S45399
5 Mussa, S. (n.d.). Surprising benefits of magnesium for the eyes – check this out!. Klarity Health Library. https://my.klarity.health/magnesium-for-the-eyes/