The human eye is a delicate and complicated structure that provides us the ability to see. Of the five senses, this is arguably the one that human beings depend upon the most. One look at the eye care section in the local pharmacy or the number of vision centers selling eyeglasses and contact lenses would confirm this belief. And, while it is important to take the time to get an annual eye exam, this is really not for truly preventative purposes. Regular exams are designed for early detection of degenerative changes and disease processes so that treatment can begin sooner and be more effective in a cure or minimizing loss.
To take truly preventive measures for ensuring optimal eye health, or any other part of the body for that matter, healthy lifestyle practices are the key. The most important, and available, of these is diet. The foods you eat have a direct and immediate effect on all aspects of your health, including your eyes. The following is a list of eight of the most important nutrients for healthy eyes and how to get them from the foods you eat.
- Vitamin A and Beta Carotene: Vitamin A is critical to the formation of the light absorbing molecules in the retina. Beta carotene is a potent antioxidant which protects the blood vessels that supply the eye and the nerve cells of the retina. Beta carotene is also a precursor of Vitamin A and can be converted by the body in order to ensure an adequate supply of this essential nutrient to the retina. FOUND IN: eggs, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, and green leafy vegetables.
- Essential Fatty Acids: Omega fatty acids are essential to normal function and maintenance of the neurological and cardiovascular systems. The retina is a dense bundle of nerve cells and blood vessels requiring essential fatty acids for proper function and support. EFAs also have a natural anti-inflammatory effect and are, therefore, a protective mechanism for all cells and structures in the eye. FOUND IN: salmon, sardines, anchovies, flaxseeds, walnuts and soybeans.
- Zinc: Works with Vitamin A to form melanin, a pigment which protects the eye. Important for macular health. FOUND IN: seafood (especially oysters), poultry, red meat, legumes, dairy products and whole grains.
- Vitamin E: This powerful antioxidant protects the lens and the retina from oxidative stressors such as radiation (UV and EM) and cellular free radicals. FOUND IN: nuts, avocados, wheat germ, green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, oils, and whole grains.
- Vitamin C: The most well known of antioxidants, Vitamin C acts to protect structures of the eye (especially the lens) from the damage of oxidative stress. FOUND IN: colorful fruits and vegetables like red berries, red and green peppers, citrus fruits, and tomatoes; dark leafy greens.
- Lutein and Zeaxanthin: Two powerful antioxidants that protect the retina from damage due to high energy light waves. FOUND IN: eggs, green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, zucchini, corn, garden peas; berries.
These nutrients have been shown to help prevent or slow the progression of age-related eye diseases such as cataracts, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. The common theme you will notice with them and their source foods is that they are good for the heart and the nervous system as well as for the eye. And foods that are good for the heart and the brain are good for all of the other organs and systems of the human body.
By simply seeing the grocery store as a natural pharmacy and by shopping primarily for your health and less for your cravings, you can supply your body with the tools to start healing itself immediately. Try it and see for yourself.