What foods, minerals, vitamins, and fatty acids help your eyes?

According to the June 2009 article,"‘Eye Food – fact sheet–Transitions Healthy Sight Survey," foods that fight cataracts and macular degeneration contain both phytonutrients and sulfur. Eggs contain cysteine, sulfur, lecithin, carotenoids and zeaxanthin.

These nutrients help to protect the lens of the eye from cataract formation. When you add vitamin C to the cysteine, sulfur, and lecithin in the eggs from juice, such as orange juice mixed with carrot juice or kiwi fruit, the phytonutrients such as the carotenoids and zeaxanthin in the eggs and the mixture of fruit and vegetable juice contain key antioxidants that help to eliminate free radicals that can cause eye damage

Dietary Fat & Macular Degeneration Risk

According to the article, "Macular Degeneration Information," published in the Eye Digest, "High fat intake is associated with an increased risk of macular degeneration in both women and men."

The diet recommended at the Eye Digest site contains two types of fat (saturated and unsaturated). Trans fat is made when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil–a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation increases the shelf life and flavor stability of foods containing these fats.

According to the article, both types (saturated & unsaturated) are associated with an increase in risk of macular degeneration. Surprisingly, even increased intake of polyunsaturated fats (the good fat), which have a protective effect against heart diseases, do not have a similar protective against macular degeneration.

Recent research has shown that although increasing the intake of all types of polyunsaturated fats does not help in macular degeneration, preferentially increasing intake of one type of polyunsaturated fat and simultaneously reducing intake of another type of polyunsaturated fat does help.

Linolenic acid (omega-3 fatty acid), which is a type of polyunsaturated fat found primarily in fish and flaxseed oil, is associated with lessening of macular degeneration risk, but only among individuals with lower intake of linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acid). Therefore, intake of food sources with high linolenic acid (omega-3 fatty acid) and low linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acid), as is found in Canola oil may help in macular degeneration.

View the ‘Trans Fat’ video 56K or cable/DSL. The Eye Digest site notes that, "Of the food sources, intake of beef, pork, or lamb as a main dish increases the risk of macular degeneration. More than 1 serving/week of beef, pork, or lamb as a main dish is associated with a 35% increased risk of macular degeneration as compared with less than 3 servings/month."

A high intake of margarine is also significantly related to an increased risk of macular degeneration. 1 serving per day of high-fat dairy food (whole milk, ice cream, hard cheese, or butter) increases risk of macular degeneration progression by 1.91 times, according to the "Macular Degeneration Information" article.

One serving per day of meat food (hamburger, hot dogs, processed meat, bacon, beef as a sandwich, or beef as a main dish) increases risk of macular degeneration progression by 2.09 times. 1 serving per day of processed baked goods (commercial pie, cake, cookies, and potato chips) increases risk of macular degeneration progression by 2.42 times.

What’s Helpful?
People who eat fish more than 4 times/week have a lower risk of macular degeneration than those who consume it less than 3 times/month, according to the "Macular Degeneration Information" article. This is especially true for Tuna fish. The "Macular Degeneration Information" article reports that, "People who eat canned tuna more than once per week are 40% less likely to develop macular degeneration as compared with those who consumed it less than once per month."

The question here is what about the mercury in canned tuna compared to the relatively less mercury in canned, wild-caught salmon? According to the "Macular Degeneration Information" article, "Fish is a major source of DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid). Recently it has been reported that there is a potential beneficial effect of eating any type of nuts on risk of progression of macular degeneration.

Eating one serving per day of any type of nut reduces the risk of progression of macular degeneration by 40%, according to the "Macular Degeneration Information" article. "This beneficial effect complements other literature reporting a protective role for nuts and cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes mellitus. One of the bioactive compounds in nuts, resveratrol, has antioxidant, antithrombotic, and anti-inflammatory properties."

AgingEye Times recommendation: Fat provides about 42 percent of the calories in the average American diet. A diet that derives closer to 20-25 percent of total calories from fat is probably healthier. Reducing fat intake to this level means cutting down greatly on consumption of red meats and dairy products such as milk, cheese, and butter. Eating more cold-water fish (at least twice weekly), rather than red meats and eating any type of nuts may help macular degeneration patients. Women must read the FDA advisory on the levels of mercury in fish prior to increasing the consumption of fish.

(References: Arch Ophthalmol.2000;118:401-4, Arch Ophthalmol.2001;119:1191-9, Am J Clin Nutr 2001;73:209-18, Arch Ophthalmol 2003 Dec;121:1728-37).

Excess Protein and Glaucoma Risk

Some eye doctors recommend that people eat a diet of 50 percent raw vegetables and fruits daily because there are connections of excess vanadium and protein powders to glaucoma. And a deficiency of chromium is related to glaucoma. It’s also known that glaucoma runs in families. There’s a genetic risk. But it’s a risk and not destiny. 

If you’re worried about getting glaucoma, ask your doctor for a chromium test because chromium deficiency is connected with glaucoma. You might research more information pertaining to how nutrition is related to specific eye problems at the Nutritional Optometry Institute in Lake Hiawatha, New Jersey.

Read the article at the Nutritional Optometry Institute site titled, "Too Much Protein." Also,see the article titled "What Eye  Doctors are Telling Patients about Nutrition."

A passage from the article at the "Too Much Protein" site reads, "Many of my patients who have vision problems are consuming more than double and even triple the RDAs of protein——and most of the average American’s protein is from flesh protein sources——foods such as beef, lamb, pork, chicken, duck, turkey, fish, and shellfish.

"Some nutritionists have criticized the RDAs as being too low. Nonetheless, considering longevity, vitality, reproductive adequacy, and freedom from morbidity as appropriate measures of success, the RDA for protein is quite sufficient."

The problem also, according to article at the "Too Much Protein" site notes, "One consequence of taking in too much phosphorus and too little calcium (and magnesium as well) is a syndrome called “secondary hyperthyroidism.” This condition is probably heavily implicated in osteoporosis and, according to my evidence, is a principal cause of increased distensibility of the sclera (the white outer coat of the eyes), allowing more rapid development of nearsightedness (myopia) and other refractive changes."

Find out how nutrition plays a role in preventing and controlling glaucoma. One of the studies done at Columbia, University, NY that is mentioned in the book Healing with Vitamins, (2008), on page 272,  found that persons with chromium deficiency that were eating too many foods containing vanadium, a common trace mineral had a higher risk for getting glaucoma.

Vanadium is found in dulse, kelp, and other seaweed as well as in large marine fish and in the fishmeal made of marine-phosphate fed to poultry. Find out whether you need more chromium, if you’ve been eating refined foods or foods containing a lot of sugar. Chromium is used by the eye muscles to focus.

When you read and focus too much, too much fluid can be produced inside your eyes. If the fluid doesn’t drain well, the pressure builds. The cycle repeats with fewer nutrients reaching the optic nerve, and poor circulation in the retina.

Regarding protein powders, doctors are seeing healthy men in their twenties and thirties with glaucoma. Is the culprit too large a dose of protein powder? Vitamin B6 often is removed from some protein powders that also may have other nutrients removed. But vitamin B6 is essential to make and replace certain proteins that are required by the eyes for proper circulation and fluid balance.

According to a sentence in the “Food Factors” box on page 273 in the book titled, Healing with Vitamins (Rodale Health Books), “As a result, these lower-quality proteins seem to be contributing to restricted fluid movement in the eyes and the development of pigmentary glaucoma.”

Sure, many other proteins in your diet contribute to glaucoma. But according to page 273 in “Food Factors” in the book titled, Healing with Vitamins, a passage reads, “protein powders deliver protein in such high levels it seems to be accelerating the process in some men.” Also people with diabetes and those with glaucoma are both frequently found to be low in chromium. So you don’t want to be low in chromium and high in valadium.

Besides getting chromium in your multiple vitamins, if the labels say it contains chromium, you can take trace minerals; multiple minerals, a tiny amount with a GTF chromium supplement, or a tiny amount such as 200mcg or less with chromium supplement such as Chrome Mate, or find foods rich in chromium. Some foods rich in chromium are grape juice, egg yolks, brewer’s yeast, fruits, and vegetables. The Daily Value for chromium is just 120 mcgs. Don’t take too much because it’s a metal.

Don’t take vitamin C with chromium at the same time such as taking it together in a multiple vitamin because the vitamin C interferes with your body’s absorption of chromium. Chromium affects your blood sugar levels. For more information, see pages 273-274 of the book titled, Healing with Vitamins (Rodale Health Books).

What you do want to get plenty of is your Omega 3 fatty acids that you find in the good quality fish oils. You want to cut down on sugar and eat more green vegetables. Taking a lot of protein powders is not good. You don’t want protein delivered in such high levels as found in many of those powders.

Which Vitamins in Foods Protect Your Eyesight?

You’d need at least 100 percent of daily requirements of vitamin C from a variety of sources. For example, three kiwi fruits contain only about 20% of your daily requirement of vitamin C. What you want to add to this diet is more sources of vitamin C as well as a balance of selenium and magnesium from nuts such as almonds. As the selenium from the nuts stimulates the immune system, it also protects the carotenoids from the carrot juice and other fruits and vegetables from oxidative damage.

To protect against degenerative age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, or diabetic retinopathy, magnesium in foods helps to relaxes the smooth muscles in your eyes that regulate the outflow of fluids from the inner eye. You don’t want fluid build-up in your eyes that leads to the onset of glaucoma.

Start with two handfuls of almonds or cashew nuts each day. For example, one cup of almonds or hazelnuts also
provides a sufficient amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E to help to fight off degenerative ocular and vascular alterations leading to glaucoma and AMD. What you need to do is combine nuts with foods that contain a balance of zinc to copper and vitamin C.

That’s where seafood comes in providing a combination of zinc with your other foods containing vitamin C. Try some canned wild-caught salmon mixed with chopped vegetables on a salad or sandwich. Wild-caught salmon that’s canned is from the overrun and is the same fish you’d buy fresh for $16 a pound or more. But since it’s the overrun of the wild-caught catch, it’s canned and priced more like $4. What’s in the salmon is the Omega 3 fatty acids. Or you can take fish oil that’s purified to help protect your eyes from the ravages of oxidation.

The reason for eating certain wild-caught fish like salmon or taking purified fish oils high in Omega 3 fatty acids such as EPA and especially DHA in balance is that these fatty acids help to restore vascular health when balanced with amounts of Omega 9 oil from avocados or almonds and Omega 6 oils from extra virgin olive oil or other nut oils.

The Omega 3 fatty acids helps to keep your optical nerve response in your eyes and vascular eye health from rapid aging and degeneration. As your eyes age, your eyes lose the necessary omega-3 fatty acids. When the omega 3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA is lost, your eyes begin to increase deposits of oxidized compounds helping to cause age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness in the elderly.

You’d need a balance of zinc and copper in your diet. One example of a food high in zinc is oysters. Some types of gourd squash (calabash) also are high in zinc. Oysters contain about 100 times more zinc than any other marine
animals. Zinc is an essential component of many enzymes, including those producing light-sensing retinal from vitamin A.

Without zinc, beta-carotene (found in carrots) will not prevent night blindness and other adverse effects of vitamin A
deficiency. Zinc also helps to prevent other eye diseases caused by oxidative stress, including glaucoma, cataracts, and poor night vision. Four oysters daily help to maintain healthy zinc levels.

To get carrotenes, if you don’t like carrots, try melons, peaches, tomatoes, plums, and red grapes or mix all of these in a salad of fruits and vegetables. The carrotenes help with night vision by aiding the transmission of light signals in retinal cells. But you also need to balance orange and green vegetables and fruits.

That’s where raw spinach salads or juices come in. You could also add a teaspoon of barley green powder to spinach and water or other vegetable juice in a blender and drink a green juice each day. Or eat spinach in a salad as well as other dark green leafy vegetables such as Lacinado kale or romaine lettuce. Carotenoids also are green as well as orange or yellow.

Cooked spinach and carrots have about the same amounts of beta-carotene. But spinach has lutein and zeaxanthin. You could also buy lutein powder as a supplement that contains zeaxanthin. Try to get lutein and zeaxanthin in fresh vegetables as much as possible.

As the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin build up in your eyes, they help to protect your eyes from ultra violet light in the sun. If too much sun gets in the eyes, it could promote the development of cataracts in someone without the ability to absorb the vitamins from foods that help protect the eyes against ultra violet light from the sun. But if you stay out of the sun, you’ll get less vitamin D3. Or you could wear wrap-around sunglasses to protect your vision, provided that the sunglasses screen out 100 percent of the ultra violet (UV) light.

Broccoli is good for your eyes because it contains one fifth the recommended daily dose of vitamins C, A, E, B2, lutein, and zeaxanthin. With broccoli, also eat blueberries. The berries have around 30 percent of your daily vitamin C needs and are good for the brain as well.

As you eat blueberries, the minerals and other vitamins in the berries help to restore visual acuity when you leave a brightly lighted room or outdoors and walk into a dark room, such as a dark theater. In the 1940s, pilots were fed bilberry, related to the blueberry to help their eyes adjust to flying at night. The blueberries today would help your eyes adjust more quickly to going from light to darkness. Today, berries are eaten to help relieve computer eye fatigue also called Computer Eye Syndrome (CES).

Other fruits helpful to eyesight are mangos becuse of the combination of high amounts of beta-carotene, vitamin A, and crypthoxanthin, a carotenoid found in mangos, along with vitamin E. When you eat a fruit that combines the crypthoxanthin with the vitamin A, beta-carotene, and vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), the combination of vitamins with vitamin C all work to help reduce eye pressure, and protect against oxidative damage.

You don’t want pressure inside your eyes from fluid build-up to lead to glaucoma. That’s why a diet rich in fruits and vegetables are good for the eyes. Just make sure you don’t overdo the fruits that build up sugar spikes in your blood, causing too much insulin to be released in your bloodstream, which in turn, could lead to metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance, which ages you faster.

Carbs and Cataracts

According to the US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, in a July 2005 news report titled, "High Carbs May Boost Cataract Risk," high carbohydrate diets were linked with a greater risk of cataracts in a study of 417 women age 53 to 73.

New details about the association between high carbohydrates and cataract risk have emerged from a study reported in the June 2005 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (volume 81, pages 1411-1416). Does exposure to excess  glucose damage the lenses of the eyes over time?

Cataracts are a major cause of blindness worldwide and afflict an estimated 20 million Americans. Scientists don’t know what links high-carbohydrate intake to increased cataract risk.

Possibly, increased exposure to glucose, a breakdown product of carbohydrates, might damage our eyes’ lenses. Read the entire July 2005 news report, High Carbs May Boost Cataract Risk, at the US Department of Agriculture’s Food & Nutrition Research Briefs site.   

Women who ate an average of 200 to 268 grams of carbohydrates each day were more than twice as likely to develop cortical cataracts, than women whose meals provided between 101 and 185 grams by day’s end. That’s according to the ARS-funded scientists at the ARS Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, MA.

The recommended daily allowance for carbohydrates for adults and children is 130 grams. Researchers analyzed eye exam results and 14 years’ worth of food records collected from 417 women, aged 53 to 73.

The women, participants in the nationwide Nurses’ Health Study, did not have a history of cataracts but were recently diagnosed with the disease. Research continues to see what the links are between simple carbs and the formation of cataracts.

That’s why a balanced diet is important. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), "Improved vitamin A nutrition could prevent up to 2.5 million deaths annually among children under 5 years." Vitamin A for the Children of the World Task Force Sight and Life, 2000. According to the Center for Disease Control’s article, "International Micronutrient Prevention and Control Program," in 2000, CDC established the International Micronutrient Malnutrition Prevention and Control (IMMPaCt) Program.

The program goal is to work with global partners to contribute CDC skills and resources to eliminate vitamin and mineral deficiencies as public health problems among vulnerable populations throughout the world, particularly for iron, vitamin A, iodine, and folic acid. The problems related to eye sight focuses on issues of what can be done about nutritional deficiencies around the world.

How can blindness due to nutritional deficiencies around the world be prevented? Here are examples of how the International Micronutrient Malnutrition Prevention and Control (IMMPaCt) Program works with global partners to contribute CDC skills and resources to eliminate vitamin and mineral deficiencies (micronutrient malnutrition) among vulnerable populations throughout the world. Established by the CDC in 2000, IMMPaCt focuses primarily on helping eliminate deficiencies in iron, vitamin A, iodine, and folic acid.The problem of vitamin A deficiency.

Vitamin A deficiency causes night blindness and is the single most important cause of childhood blindness in developing countries. Every year, about 500,000 children lose their sight as a result of vitamin A deficiency. The majority (about 70%) die within one year of losing their sight.

Vitamin A deficiency increases the risk of severe illness, and even death, from common childhood infections such as diarrheal diseases and measles. In developing countries 200-300 million children of preschool age are at risk of vitamin A deficiency.

Vitamin A deficiency may increase the risk of maternal mortality in pregnant women. Nearly 600,000 women die from childbirth-related causes each year, the vast majority of them from complications which could be reduced through better nutrition, such as vitamin A.

Global Prevalence of Vitamin A Deficiency WHO/UNICEF 1995*

Combating vitamin A deficiency. WHO 2002*Iron

"As many as 4-5 billion people, 66-80% of the world’s population, may suffer from reduced learning ability and work capacity due to iron deficiency."

The problem of iron deficiency

Iron deficiency, and specifically iron deficiency anemia, is one of the most severe and important nutritional deficiencies in the world. Preschool children and women of reproductive age are at highest risk. As many as 4-5 billion people, 66-80% of the world’s population, may be iron deficient and approximately 2 billion people, more than 30% of the world’s population, are anemic. It is estimated that more than half of the pregnant women in developing countries are anemic.

Iron deficiency impairs the cognitive development of children through to adolescence.

Iron deficiency damages immune mechanisms, and is associated with increased morbidity rates.

Iron deficiency impairs physical work capacity in men and women by up to 30%.

Iron deficiency during pregnancy is associated with multiple adverse outcomes for both mother and infant, including increased risk of sepsis, maternal mortality, perinatal mortality, and low birth weight.

Iron deficiency and anemia reduce learning ability and the work capacity of individuals and entire populations, bringing serious economic consequences and obstacles to national development.

Iron Deficiency Anaemia. Assessment, Prevention and Control. A Guide for Programme Managers. WHO/UNICEF/UNU 2001* (PDF-580k)

Iron and Iron Deficiency

Iodine

The problem of iodine deficiency is especially serious for pregnant women and young children. During pregnancy, even a mild deficiency of iodine can reduce brain development of the fetus limiting the intellectual ability of an individual for life.

Iodine deficiency can cause severe mental and physical retardation, known as cretinism.

Iodine deficiency in chronic form, can cause goiter (a disorder characterized by swelling of the thyroid gland) in both adults and children.

Iodine deficiency most commonly, impedes fetal brain development. At the population level, the consequence of iodine deficiency is a 10-15% lower average intellectual quotient (IQ), which affects the social and economic development of both communities and nations.

The World Bank has estimated that, combined with vitamin A deficiency and iron deficiency, iodine deficiency may lower the economic wealth of a nation by as much as 5% every year.

Assessment of Iodine Deficiency Disorders and Monitoring their Elimination: A Guide for Programme Managers 2nd edition. WHO/UNICEF/ICCIDD 2001* (PDF-1,237K)The problem of iodine deficiency).

Assessment of Iodine Deficiency Disorders and Monitoring their Elimination: A Guide for Programme Managers 2nd edition. WHO/UNICEF/ICCIDD 2001*(PDF-1,237k).

Network for Sustained Elimination of Iodine Deficiency*.

Ending Iodine Deficiency Forever. A goal within our grasp. UNICEF/WHO 2000* (PDF-1,236k).

Folic Acid

Folic acid helps prevent spina bifida and anencephaly that affect at least 225,000 children a year throughout the world. For further information see the study: Berry RJ et al. Prevention of Neural-tube Defects with Folic Acid in China. China-U.S. Collaborative Project for Neural Tube Defect Prevention. N Engl J Med 1999;341(20):1485-1490.The problem of folic acid deficiency

An estimated 300,000 children are born each year with spina bifida and anencephaly, which are severe neural tube defects. Approximately 75%, 225,000, of these affected births could be prevented through increased consumption of synthetic folic acid by all women of reproductive age.

Folic acid can help prevent birth defects of the brain (anencephaly) and the spinal cord (spina bifida) called neural tube defects.

Folic acid can help prevent anemia.

Folic acid can possibly help prevent breast cancer, colon cancer and heart disease.

For further information see the following studies:

Berry RJ et al. Prevention of neural-tube defects with folic acid in China. China-U.S. Collaborative Project for Neural Tube Defect Prevention. N Engl J Med 1999;341(20):1485-1490.

MRC Vitamin Study Research Group Prevention of neural tube defects: results of the Medical Research Council Vitamin Study. MRC Vitamin Study Research group. Lancet 1991;338 (8760):131-7.

Czeizel AE, Dudas I: Prevention of the first occurrence of neural tube defects by periconceptional vitamin supplementation. N Engl J Med 1992;327(26):1832-5

Why Folic Acid is So Important. CDC 2002

Folic Acid

For further information, you can check out these medical research studies below on vegetables, fruits, phytonutrients, vitamins, and how they help your eyesight.

1. The Transitions Optical Healthy Sight Survey was conducted by world-renowned market research company Ipsos-Markinor in March 2009. One thousand South African respondents partook in the survey.

2. Rhone, M. & Basu, A. Phytochemicals and age-related eye diseases. Nutr Rev 66, 465-472 (2008).

3. Elvevoll, E.O., et al. Enhanced incorporation of n-3 fatty acids from fish compared with fish oils. Lipids 41, 1109-1114 (2006).

4. Rhone, M. & Basu, A. Phytochemicals and age-related eye diseases. Nutr Rev 66, 465-472 (2008).

5. Michikawa, T., et al. Serum antioxidants and age-related macular degeneration among older Japanese. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 18, 1-7 (2009).

Photo credits: Centers for Disease Control (CDC) image public domain library (eye safety).