Wednesday, July 4, 2012

How to keep your Eyes Young

Your eyes are one of the most important organs in your body.  Blindness is the most scary condition humans fear short of cancer.

The eyes act as little video cameras that are constantly taking pictures of our world around us. The film of the eye (camera) is a layer of tissues called the retina, composed of rods and cones. The retina converts light energy into electrical impulses that travel in the 1 million strands of the two optic nerves to the area in the brain at the back of the head. A person “sees” with his brain. A stroke in the brain can cause blindness.

 In order for the cells in our eyes to be healthy they must receive sufficient oxygen, water, nutrients and antioxidants to counter oxidative damage(ageing and degeneration).

Lets look at two diseases associated with ageing of the eyes that can be prevented or progress slowed by lifestyle change. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataract (cloudy lens).

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
The area in the center of the retina is called the macula lutea.  The lens in your eye focuses the image on this central focal point just as when using a magnifying glass (in fact one can burn paper and even start a fire with the magnifying glass and sunlight- right boy scouts?) The macula is where we see color and the area we use for reading. The maculae cells have the highest rate of metabolism in the body. More oxygen free radicals (damage) occurs here than anywhere else in the body.
Macular degeneration occurs in two forms: either a dry (cells die) or wet (new blood vessels develop that leak). The wet form causes the most severe visual loss.
Age related macular degeneration is the leading cause of irreversible visual loss in the western world.

If you have AMD, your eye doctor may prescribe for you a vitamin-antioxidant pill to prevent progression of moderate dry macular degeneration or if you have the wet form, advise laser or injections of medication into the eye.

Cataract (cloudy lens) occur when sunlight or other insults damage the proteins in the lens. Not protecting your eyes from the sun and smoking clearly increase your risk.  Dark green leafy veggies and a variety of whole foods, eaten whole, decrease the risk of cataracts.

How can I protect the cells in my eyes from degenerative damage?

            1.  Get sufficient oxygen. Exercise increases oxygen in the body, smoking
decreases it.

2.   Whole plant foods eaten whole (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts),
They are abundant in energy nutrients as well as loaded with vitamins,  minerals, phytochemicals (plant chemicals) and antioxidants (prevents oxidative damage)

The following are a few studies that have shown the undeniable connection between a proper diet and exercise with a lower incidence of AMD and cataract.

Carotenoids in Age-Related Eye Disease Study (CAREDS), an ancillary study of the Women’s Health Initiative showed that the women who ate diets highest in fruits and vegetables and lowest in fat demonstrated 37% fewer cataracts and a 46% reduction in odds for AMD than those with diets low in fruits and veggies and high fat.
         And those who exercised the most demonstrated a twofold decrease in risk of AMD

Beaver Dam Eye Study, participants that consumed the most lutein, an antioxidant, (kale, spinach, Swiss chard, etc.) demonstrated nearly 50% less cataract compared to those who ate the least.
Also there is a 50% decreased incidence of AMD in high dark green leafy veggie consumers.

Smoking is the principal known, preventable risk factor associated with any form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The risk is two to three times higher in current-smokers compared with never smokers.

A paper published in the Arch Ophthalmol 2003 by Seddon, et al “Progression of AMD Assoc with Body Mass Index, Waist circumference, and Waist-Hip Ratio” reported that individuals who are overweight face double the risk of developing AMD compared to those with normal body weight, and those who performed vigorous physical activities at least three times a week reduce their chances of developing AMD compared to those with a sedentary lifestyle.

The same lifestyle that prevents and reverses hardening of the arteries, coronary heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, obesity, etc. is the same lifestyle that will keep your eyes young and healthy.

The Lifestyle is:

·   Do not smoke.

·   Eat a large variety of whole foods, foods as grown. 5 to 9 servings a day of fruits and vegetables, especially dark leafy greens.

·   Avoid refined and concentrated foods that come in “crinkly bags and or cans. (soda pops, chips, pastries, ice cream).

·   Limit carbs that raise blood sugar quickly (sugars, potatoes, white bread).

·   Eat low fat (reduce or eliminate meat, dairy products and oils).

·   Eat Omega-3 fatty acids at least twice a week (especially fatty fish like salmon or ground flax seed or chia seeds).

·   Lose (or don’t gain) excess weight.

·   Do moderate exercise ½ hour  5-6 days/week

·   Wear blue blocking U-V sunglasses – especially at high exposure situations: mid-day, and (high altitude, snow, water).

·   Normalize – Blood pressure, blood sugar, blood lipids(cholesterol, triglycerides) preferably through lifestyle or by medications if needed.

George D Chen, MD, MPH

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