Scientists have understood for years that proper nutrition is critical to eye health. Intensive research conducted in this area has identified essential nutrients that promote healthy vision and may reduce the risk of eye disease.
Consider: The Age-Related Eye Disease Study, or AREDS, found that individuals who had a high-risk of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration but took a supplement containing high doses of vitamins and antioxidants reduced their risk of progression by 25%. They also reduced their risk of visual acuity loss due to advanced AMD by 19%. Research also has suggested that an individual’s genetic make-up may help determine the role of nutrition in preventing AMD progression. (See “Is AMD Progression in the Genes?”)
We also know that a diet rich in nutrients with antioxidant properties, such as vitamins C and E, lutein, and zeaxanthin, may help slow the progression of cataracts. There’s now evidence that several nutrients play a role in the treatment of dry eye disease as well. (See “A Nutritional Approach to Treating Dry Eye,”)
By contrast, chronic inflammation can cause long-term damage to our eyes as well as our bodies. Our digestive systems are not able to absorb the “good” nutrients effectively when in an inflamed state. Even so, the common Western diet, which is saturated with corn and grains that contain gluten, sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, caffeine and alcohol, vegetable oils, and red meat, is associated with an increased AMD risk.
START THE CONVERSATION
The important concern for us is to start a conversation about diet and nutrition with our patients. Now that ODs are in the primary care arena, this needs to be one of the conversations in the exam room. This ties in with the message that Think About Your Eyes promotes, namely the importance of an annual eye exam.
To educate our patients, we need to educate ourselves as well with basic knowledge about nutrition and its effects on the eyes and body. For example, not all supplements are created equal. Many have low bioavailability, which can hinder absorption of the nutrients.
Each of us should do some research and be able to recommend the most appropriate supplements available for our patients. They should get their information from us rather than purchase whatever supplement for which they have a coupon. It is always best to get our nutrition from foods, but when we can’t, a supplement can fill the void.
Changes in diet can have a big impact on eye health and improve the quality of life. Eyecare professionals know that good eye health is proactive. Our bodies do not create all the nutrients we need, so it’s essential to get them through our diet and/or nutritional supplements such as ocular
Jennifer Zolman, OD, FCOVD, is the immediate past president of The South Carolina Optometric Physicians Association and is among the 18,000 doctors listed on the Think About Your Eyes online locator. Think About Your Eyes is a nationwide public awareness initiative promoting the importance of an annual eye exam and overall vision health. First Vision Media Group supports Think About Your Eyes as a media partner.