Everyone has heard of the old wives tale that eating lots of carrots can help us see better in the dark, but is there any evidence to indicate that what we eat can actually affect our vision? With regards to whether carrots can help us see in the dark, in theory this could be true, although the amount of carrots you would have to eat to have any effect at all would be far too many to contemplate! However there certainly is truth in the fact that eating a diet rich in certain nutrients can reduce the risk of certain diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration.
Our eyes, like the rest of our body, require the appropriate nutrients and vitamins to help them function correctly and remain healthy. Our eyes are also affected by bad habits, such as smoking and drinking, which increase the amount free radicals in our body. In the same way that smoking and drinking excessively is bad for our general health, the same is true for the health of eyes. Most diseases of the eyes such as cataracts, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy are more likely to occur in smokers and heavy drinkers. This is not to say that smoking and drinking causes these diseases, but it does increase your chances of getting them and their progression tends to be quicker. In fact, your Optometrist will strongly recommend that you cut out smoking and drinking if you start to develop any of these eye diseases.
Both cataracts and macular degeneration are degenerative eye conditions that lead to a slow loss of vision with age and although cataracts can be easily treated with a surgical procedure, the same cannot be said of macular degeneration. Both these diseases are accelerated by the presence of free radicals in the eye and consequently anything that can reduce their numbers will be beneficial to the health of the eyes. This is the reason that both smoking and alcohol are risk factors for cataracts and macular degeneration.
Eyes & Diet
The macular is the most important part of our retina and is responsible for our central vision which is critical for tasks such as reading and recognising people’s faces. Age related macular degeneration is caused by the slow degeneration of the cells within our macular, which can eventually lead to blindness. To date there is no treatment for this age related loss of vision and consequently more and more ophthalmologists are advising that a diet rich in free radical reducing anti-oxidants can slow down its progression. Lutein and Zeaxanthin are anti-oxidants that are found naturally in the macular and both reduce the amount of free radicals in the eye. Although no ophthalmologist would ever guarantee their effectiveness, they will generally recommend increasing the amount of Lutein and Zeaxanthin in the diets of people with early onset macular degeneration.
Which Foods Should I Eat?
Both Lutein and Zeaxanthin are found in many different food types but they are found in the highest concentrations in green leafy vegetables such as green cabbage, spinach and Kale. They are also found in other vegetables such as Zucchini and Brussels sprouts although not in as high concentrations. Both the anti-oxidants are found in certain fruits such as oranges and melons albeit in much lower amounts. By trying to include as many of these foods into your daily diet you give your eyes the best chance of being disease free for life. This is not to say that you will never develop any eye problems nor does it mean you no longer need to have regular eye tests but you are providing your eyes with the most natural way of preventing diseases.
In addition to increasing the amount of these foods in your diet, you should also continue to eat a balanced healthy diet. Stopping smoking and alcohol will also significantly reduce the risk of developing eye diseases as both these habits lead to an increase in degenerative free radicals in your eyes. Just remember, you only have one pair of eyes and it is important not to take the health of them for granted. By having an eye test at least every 2 years (every year if you are over 70 years old) you will ensure that the Optometrist will be able to detect the early signs of any eye diseases and advise you appropriately. Prevention is always better than cure, and this is especially the case when it comes to preserving your vision.