Good Nutrition Can Protect Your Vision

There is encouraging news - and lots of it - from researchers studying eye disease and the Laboratory for Cataract Research. Proper nutrition may prevent macular degeneration and cataracts, the two leading causes of blindness in America, according to recent research. In particular, supplementation of antioxidants, carotenoids, and Omega-3 lipids appears to delay or prevent both of these degenerative diseases.

CATARACTS
Fifty million people are blind from cataracts. Over half a million cataract extractions are performed each year in the United States. But doctors and researchers now say that with proper nutrition, over half of these cataract surgeries would be prevented. Quite simply, they would no longer be needed.

According to Allen Taylor Ph.D., director of the Laboratory for Nutrition and cataract Research at Tufts University, cataracts develop from the slow deterioration of proteins in the lens of the eye. This deterioration is often the result of damage caused by free radicals.

Antioxidants, such as vitamins A, C, E, and Beta Carotene can protect the eye against oxidative damage - thus preventing the formation of cataracts.

ANTIOXIDANTS - NUTRIENTS FOR THE EYES
Dr. Taylor reports that high blood levels of Vitamin C, Beta Carotene, Vitamin E and Selenium have all been correlated to a delay in cataract formation. Why are antioxidants so vital to ocular health? According to David Shaw Founder at Quantum Health, a leading vitamin manufacturer, the metabolism in the eye is the most rapid in the entire body. "Because sight is a chemically complex process, nutrients and waste material are constantly present in the eye," says Shaw. "These proteins and lipids are constantly bombarded by ultra-violet radiation from the sun. The result: they oxidize, forming free radicals which can damage delicate eye tissue."

MACULAR DEGENERATION
The leading cause of blindness in the United States is macular degeneration, a disease of the retina which results in permanent, irreversible vision loss. The retina consists of rods and cones - light receptors - which translate light focused from the lens into nervous signals which are sent through the optic nerve to the brain. For a variety of reasons, these rods and cones can die, leading to macular degeneration.

Macular Degeneration is characterized by loss of central vision. Although some peripheral vision may remain, clouded central vision typically makes driving a car or reading impossible.

NUTRITION: AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION
As with cataracts, damage caused by free radicals may cause or exacerbate macular retinopathy. Supplementation of antioxidants can limit the damage free radical may cause to the retina.

Research at the Schepens Eye Institute in Boston also suggests that Omega-3 lipids may help protect against retinal disease. Nutrients are brought to the retina and wastes are removed from it through a thin tissue called the retinal pigment epithelium. Damage to this tissue can inhibit the blood supply to the retina, causing irreversible retinal damage.

Although damage sometimes results from injury or disease, in elderly people, swelling can sometimes be the result of "haywire" nervous signals - the body reacts to an intrusion of bacteria or responds to an injury although no such intrusion has taken place. Omega-3 lipids are vital to preventing this kind of nervous system error.

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
The battle against blindness has made gigantic strides in recent decades. New surgical techniques have helped millions of cataract victims. And new technologies which include special glasses which refocus peripheral vision to help people see forward are helping those who suffer from macular deterioration. But medical science's most powerful weapon against eye disease remains prevention. And proper nutrition, along with protection from ultra-violet radiation, remains the cornerstone to a holistic, preventative approach to fighting eye disease.

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