Shakespeare is known for saying our eyes are the windows to our soul. I was squinting recently to watch an escaped helium balloon disappear into the blue sky when it struck me just how precious my vision is. It’s a cliché but our vision is one of the things we can easily take for granted until it starts to desert us, and at the same time it is something that many of us simply assume will degenerate, as we get older. But if you do some reading you realise that much of what happens to our eye health is under our control, despite what we have been led to believe.
When I was first prescribed glasses, I was told to wear them as little as possible. My optician was also very reluctant to give in to my pleas for contact lenses, only prescribing them when I promised to wear them for only the occasional wedding or festival, when I wanted more freedom. He explained that, where I might take off my glasses and give my eyes a break, with contacts this wasn’t possible and my eye muscles would weaken through lack of use if I wore contacts constantly. I think this is pretty sound advice, and now 20-plus years on my vision has actually improved slightly (my prescription has decreased). While researching this article I have been reminded of another eye specialist from the 1860s called Dr Bates who routinely smashed his patient’s eyeglasses and instead taught various exercises to strengthen eye muscles, which he claimed would make glasses unnecessary. His methods made him hugely unpopular – perhaps because he challenged a large industry – but his methods are still being practiced today and while I’m not advising you throw away your driving glasses it certainly seems to makes sense to try some exercises out – especially if it costs nothing and causes no harm.
In an era when we spend hours with our eyes glued to screens small and large it also makes sense to think about the effect of this effort on the eyes. Apparently, blue light, which is emitted by smartphones and tablets, can be particularly damaging to our eyes.
What I concluded is that keeping our eyes in pristine working order, as we get older, is more about a comprehensive strategy than simply honing in on one nutrient or habit. Ultimately, a multi-faceted approach will protect our eyes on multiple levels, as well as being beneficial to our overall health. Here’s a few tips I have noticed coming up over and over again as I read about eye health:
When we think of vision we generally associate it with vitamin A or beta carotene (carrots rabbits etc) however optimising vitamin D levels seems to have more benefits to offer than eating lots of carrots. Vitamin D has been shown to help reduce the pace of AMD – Age Related Macular Degeneration – by researchers Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London. They concluded that ‘These changes were reflected in a significant improvement in visual function, revealing that vitamin D3 is a route to avoiding the pace of age-related visual decline.’ Separate research has also implicated vitamin D deficiency in the development of macular degeneration, with the people with higher levels of vitamin D being far less likely to develop AMD than people with low levels.
Vitamin D from sun exposure is the BEST way to optimise our vitamin D levels, but of course this means being outside without sunglasses or too many clothes on; which is not always possible in Ireland! When sun exposure is not an option, vitamin D3 supplement can be taken orally (there are lots of good reasons to take vitamin D all year round in Ireland anyway). I find DLux Vitamin D Spray 3000iu is a good option as it’s very easy to take and a highly absorbable form.
From a dietary perspective, eating a colourful diet is supportive of eye health because foods with strong colours contain nutrients that are beneficial to your eyes. This time of year you can start with plenty of fresh dark green leafy vegetables, especially kale. Then you want to look for anything yellow, orange and red – according to Dr Mercola, people with the highest consumption of carotenoid-rich vegetables, especially ones rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, had increased vision health. Lutein is one of the carotenoids, yellow and orange pigments, found in many fruits and vegetables including mangoes, corn, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, tomatoes and dark, leafy greens such as kale and the leafy tops of beetroots. Egg yolks contain both Lutein and zeaxanthin and you can get zeaxanthin in orange bell peppers, oranges, corn and honeydew melon. When you start reading about these nutrients you find that a bit like vitamin D they have a lot of health-giving benefits – lutein is beneficial for heart health and both as associated with brain health.
In terms of supplements, if you are at all concerned about your eye health, I would recommend taking the supplement MacuShield. MacuShield contains a mixture of the carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin – the final ingredient being the most interesting, as it is hard to get through a normal diet.
A recent trial of this regime was carried out by sceptic Dr Michael Mosley, from BBC’s Trust Me I’m a Doctor. After taking the supplement for 12 weeks, Dr Mosley had a number of eye tests that showed marked improvements in his vision:
“I…was the star of the show…After 12 weeks of taking the supplements, not only were there markedly increased levels of pigment in my eyes – which they measured by shining beams in my eyes to see how well the blue light was absorbed – I but I also performed better on almost all the eye tests.
“What they found was that my ability to see in twilight scenarios was greatly enhanced – some of my rods (the cells your eye uses when light is low) were functioning as well as a 20-year-old. And my colour vision had also shown an immediate improvement. My vision had basically improved across the board.”
Furthermore, he states “It’s also possible that by boosting my macular pigments in this way I will reduce the risk that I will develop macular degeneration, as people with this condition are also thought to have low levels of these pigments in their eyes”. A ringing endorsement from a GP notorious for being sceptical of the logic behind taking supplements.
And lastly – read a book! We stock a really good book on the Bates Method by Jonathan Barnes. One of the most famous Bates Method techniques is palming. Look around and notice the level of clarity of your vision at present. Then, simply place the centre of your palms over your eyes. Relax your shoulders. You may want to lean forward onto a table or a stack of pillows, to facilitate relaxation. Relax like this for at least two minutes. Then remove your hands, open your eyes, and notice whether anything looks clearer. Usually, it will.
If you have any questions about this subject or any other call in and have a chat in Organico or drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you are interested in our Ayurvedic Cookery Demo with Sarika Hule it’s on Saturday, November 5 in Organico Cafe. Call us on 027 55905 to see if there are still any spaces available!