We may brush our teeth and apply moisturiser religiously on a daily basis, but according to statistics, most of us tend to overlook eye-health. It’s estimated by the NHS that partial sight and blindness affects almost two million people in the UK, with 63 per cent being female and 37 per cent are male. Many long term conditions, such as diabetes and dementia, posing a significant risk to eye health.
We know it’s easy to take eye-care for granted when ‘blinded’ by the hunt of the perfect mascara! After all, we’re the first in line to try new organic eye make-up shades and finding new tricks for masking those eye-bags. So to make eye-maintenance easier, we’ve compiled some tips to look after your eye-wellbeing:
EAT FOR EYES
Vitamin A – Because vitamin A helps protect the surface of the eye (cornea), it is essential for good vision. It also supports a healthy immune system, cell growth and skin.
There are two types of vitamin A: retinoids – which comes from animal products (animal liver, whole milk and fortified foods) and beta-carotene, among the second type of vitamin A, which comes from plants and is a type of carotenoid.
Beta-Carotene – Beta-carotene is a red-orange pigment found in plants and fruits, especially carrots and colorful vegetables. Beta-carotene is a precursor of Vitamin A which the human body converts into vitamin A (retinol). Like all carotenoids, beta-carotene is an antioxidant. Antioxidants protect cells from damage caused by substances called free radicals, which are believed to contribute to certain chronic diseases and play a role in the ageing processes. Studies show that sources of carotenoids such as beta-carotene may reduce the risk for cancer.1
Vitamin A is used by the retina where it is transformed into rhodopsin, which is a purple pigment that is necessary for night-vision (this is why your Mum told you to eat your carrots so you could see at night). Also, a study has shown that beta-carotene’s powerful antioxidant action prevents macular degeneration and senile cataracts,2 the latter being the leading cause of blindness in the elderly.
As a rule of thumb, the more intense the colour of a fruit or vegetable, the higher the beta-carotene content. So, try incorporating some of these into you diet: bright yellow and orange fruits such as cantaloupe, pink grapefruit, and apricots; vegetables such as carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and winter squash. Also, eat plenty of fresh dark green leafy vegetables, especially kale and also broccoli, spinach and spirulina. Studies have shown that a diet rich in dark leafy greens helps support eye health, and those with the highest consumption of carotenoid-rich vegetables, especially ones rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, had increased vision health.3 While we make sure that our diet is naturally rich in beta-carotene, we like to boost our intake with natural supplements such as Synergy Natural’s Organic Spriulina – a rich wholefood source of anti-oxidants (25 times richer in beta-carotene than carrot) – and Pure Synergy Green Superfood, a concentrate packed with vegetables including berries, greens and sprouts, to support good health and vision.
Eating a rich in vitamin A serving of carrots (one medium carrot or ½ cup chopped) will provide about 210% of the average daily recommended amount of beta-carotene. Interestingly, one study found that cooked carrots had higher levels of beta-carotene and phenolic acids than raw carrots, and the antioxidant activity continued to increase over a period of four weeks.4
Lutein – Many people think of lutein as “the eye vitamin.” They use it to prevent eye diseases including age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, and retinitis pigmentosa.5 Lutein is called a carotenoid vitamin and is related to beta-carotene and vitamin A. The job of an antioxidant compound is to neutralize dangerous free radicals in your body, including your eyes. Of all the carotenoids, only zeaxanthin and lutein are found in your retina, which has the highest concentration of fatty acids of any tissue in your body. This is because your retina is a highly light and oxygen rich environment, and it needs a large supply of free radical scavengers to prevent oxidative damage there. It is theorized that your body concentrates zeaxanthin and lutein in your retina to perform this duty.
Foods rich in lutein include broccoli, spinach, kale, corn, orange pepper, kiwi fruit, grapes, orange juice, zucchini, and squash. Lutein is absorbed best when it is taken with a high-fat meal. It’s also mindful to eat a diet low on sugar, as excessive sugar in your blood can pull fluid from the lens of your eye, affecting your ability to focus. To normalise our blood sugar levels, we like to take some Maitake Mushrooms by Four Sigma Foods throughout the day, as it helps modulate glucose levels and to increase insulin production and can be of great help for diabetics and in supporting weight management.
Vitamin D3 – A recent study revealed striking eye benefits from vitamin D3. The findings suggest vitamin D3 may very well help prevent age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is the most common cause of blindness in the elderly.6 AMD is associated with both amyloid beta accumulation and inflammation, and vitamin D supplementation appears to benefit both of these conditions. Vitamin D from safe sun exposure is the best way to optimize your vitamin D levels, but if this is not an option, take oral supplements instead. We love the mushroom-based Vitamin D3 from The Garden of Life, as it contains essential nutrients from all-natural, organic whole foods.
Eyebright – Eyebright (or Euphrasia officinalis) is a plant which has a long history of use for eye problems and as a cure for a wide range of maladies, hence the name! The parts that grow above the ground are used to make herbal tinctures and teas. Hildegard of Bingen, a German abbess, herbalist and composer wrote about the virtues of eyebright as far back as the 11th century. In the UK, John Parkinson, master apothecary and herbalist to King Charles I, wrote about eyebright in the 14th century. According to him it was not much written about in ancient times here, although it may have come under a different name.
Interestingly, according to the doctrine of signatures, the dark spot in the centre of the flower bore a resemblance to the human eye and the purple and yellow stripes indicated a number of inflammatory eye conditions. The doctrine of signatures states that herbs which resemble various parts of the human body, can be used by herbalists to treat ailments of those parts of the body. This belief dates back to Ancient Greece, and is found the world over. According to the 17th century botanist William Coles, he gave the theological justification that God would have wanted to show men what plants would be useful for.
Content Medical Herbalist Jennifer Derham says: “Eyebright is best known for treating a wide range of eye conditions including acute and chronic inflammations, stinging or weeping eyes, infections such as conjunctivitis (inflammation or infection of the membrane lining the eyelids) and blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelash follicles), and oversensitivity to light. It may be taken internally as a tea or tincture as well as used externally as a compress or for bathing. ”.
TIPS FOR EYE HEALTH
We asked Content Naturopath Fay Halkitis to share her top tips to optimal eye health:
- Internally, eye health is all about antioxidant protection. Increase yellow vegetables (carotenes), flavonoid-rich berries (blueberries, blackberries, cherries), and Vitamin E rich foods (eggs, olives, almonds, sesame seeds). Remember, prevention is better than cure!
- If you are prone to Milia, small bumps under the eye, you may find it useful to simply use 1/2 drop of jojoba nightly in lieu of an eye cream or switch to an eye gel, such as Intelligent Nutrients Plant Stem Cell Renewal Complex Eye Gel. The best method of application is to apply a small amount of your eye product to your ring fingers and gently massage all the way around the eye bone.
- Preservative-free saline drops are invaluable at this time of year when the weather is abrasive and heating dries out the eyes. A few drops a day will keep eyes lubricated, clear and comfortable.
- Sleep, sleep, sleep! Sleep is your best remedy for persistent dark circles and puffiness. Eight hours of quality sleep every night will help ensure the liver can detoxify (dark circles) and toxins can be adequately drained via the lymphatic system (puffiness).
- We know that sometimes life can get in the way of quality sleep so if you’re eager to freshen up the eye area in an instant or reduce puffiness as a result of allergies, you can’t go past the age-old remedy of a wet chamomile bag (black or green tea will work too). Lie back for 10 minutes to allow the tea bag to work.
1. Bendich A & Olson TA “Biological Actions of Carotenoids” FASEB Journal June 1989;3(8):1927-32);
2. Carotenoids in the retina — A review of their possible role in preventing or limiting damage caused by light and oxygen DOI 10.1007/978-3-0348-7460-1_29; Part II; pp 280-298, 1992
3 Antioxidant changes and sensory properties of carrot puree processed with and without periderm tissue. J Agric Food Chem. 2000 Apr;48(4):1315-21.
4. The role of the carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, in protecting against age-related macular degeneration: A review based on controversial evidence Nutrition Journal 2003, 2:20 doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-2-20
5. Vitamin D rejuvenates aging eyes by reducing inflammation, clearing amyloid beta and improving visual function. Neurobiol Aging. 2012 Oct;33(10):2382-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2011.12.002. Epub 2012 Jan 2.