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Protecting Those Peepers
by Chris Malone,posted Apr 8 2013 5:12AM
While it's no surprise that your lifestyle plays a role in everything from your risk of developing heart disease to your blood pressure numbers and cholesterol count; what you eat, how often you workout and your overall health matter to your eyes, too.
“It is a synergy of multiple foods and lifestyle choices that affect eye health,” says Steven Pratt, M.D., an ophthalmologist at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, California. Worse, most Americans don't know how serious the risk of diseases like glaucoma, a condition that can damage the eye's optic nerve and result in vision loss and blindness, and age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), the leading cause of vision loss in adults over 50, are. ARMD gradually destroys the macula, the part of the eye that provides sharp, central vision and can eventually cause blindness.
The good news? Eye conditions we most hear about affecting our future such as cataracts, macular degeneration and glaucoma are conditions we can make a difference in by protecting our health today. “Heart disease and eye health are very related, so anything that benefits your cardiovascular status will also benefit your eyes,” says Joanna Fisher, M.D., an ophthalmologist in Huntingdon, Pa., and clinical associate professor at Thomas Jefferson University.
Here are some things you can do for your overall health that can also help keep your eyes healthy:
Step on the scale.
People who are severely overweight or obese are at risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes, which can lead to diabetic retinopathy, damage to the retina caused by complication of diabetes, the leading cause of blindness in those under 65. Seems carrying extra pounds puts a strain on your peepers. Blood cells encircle the macula but the blood won’t flood into the eyes properly giving them the nourishment they need because fat gets in the way of good blood flow explains Sheri Rowen, M.D, a cataract and LASIK surgeon with Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. Plus, women with a BMI of over 30 are 36 percent more likely to develop cataracts.
Eat more fish.
Chow down on fish at least twice weekly. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and fish oil supplements can reduce your risk of ARMD. “Sockeye salmon is the best fish for the health of the back of the eye,” says Pratt. Sardines, herring, mackerel and albacore tuna are also excellent choices.
Get moving. Exercise is essential in lowering pressure in the eye when you have glaucoma. If you’ve been diagnosed with glaucoma, exercise can keep it from worsening and help it from developing in the first place. Research has also found that people who run or walk fast, about 2.5 miles per day, statistically have a 50 percent decreased risk of ARMD. So physical activity is directly related to better eye health and less eye disease.
Stress reduction is important, as most cardiovascular events are stress-related; stress also contributes to the onset of eye conditions. Pratt recommends spending fifteen minutes a day in a stress reducing activity: walking the dog, tai chi, mediation, a relaxing hobby like knitting or a friendly game of Words with Friends--anything that lowers blood pressure can lower the pressure in the eye.
Play Like Popeye.
Pop open the spinach. Spinach is a rich source of antioxidants like lutein and zeaxathin, which cut the risk of eye disease. Other good bets: leafy greens, like collards, eggs, and orange colored fruits like kumquats, tangerines and apricots, flax seeds and nuts. These antioxidant-rich choices are crucial to the health of the retina. When your diet lacks these nutrients, your body can’t fight diseases like ARMD.
Ditch the Smokes.
Every time you smoke and inhale, it causes damage to the blood vessels in the eyes, setting you up for not only early cataracts, but ARMD and other eye disease, too. Smoking causes cataracts to grow faster. Pretty much everybody will have a cataract; it’s just a normal clouding of the natural lens of the eye with age. But most people won’t be affected until their 70s or 80s. If you’re diabetic, it’s earlier. But when you smoke, you’re all but guaranteed cataracts in your 40s, 50s or 60s.
Wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat when in the sun. They’ll reduce your exposure to eye damaging UV/UVA rays up to 18-fold. Ultraviolet light causes cataracts to grow faster and can worsen ARMD. Sunlight can also burn and damage the cornea and conjunctiva, the membrane covering the whites of the eye, a painful problem. Make sure sunglasses have UV protection. There are two types of UV: A and B. You want complete A and B protection when you buy a pair of sunglasses. Look for reputable brands. If you opt for cheapies, make sure they offer both UV/UVA protection.