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Keeping Your Eyes Bright: Nutrition and Age-Related Eye Disorders

Lots of research regarding ophthalmic nutrition has been done, with intriguing results. An early study researched the link between eye health and supplementary vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and zinc. This landmark study from the National Eye Institute (part of the National Institutes of Health) was called the Age-Related Eye Disease Study, or AREDS. Participants took high-dose supplements for six years. Scientists concluded the supplements were somewhat protective against macular degeneration, but they did not help restore vision that was already lost.

Some protection against cataracts was apparent in a substudy of the federally funded Nurses’ Health Study called the Nutrition and Vision Project, or NVP. This study showed that women with the highest intakes of vitamin C, vitamin E, riboflavin (vitamin B2), folate (vitamin B9), beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin had a lower prevalence of opaque areas in the eye. Those who used vitamin C supplements for 10 or more years were 64 percent less likely to have nuclear opacification than those who didn’t take vitamin C supplements.

Several studies have examined the link between omega-3 fatty acids and age-related eye problems. A 2007 study from the National Eye Institute concluded that omega-3fatty acids are protective against retinopathy in mice and suggested that increasing omega-3 fatty acid intake in premature infants may significantly decrease the occurrence of retinopathy due to prematurity. Scientists are hoping that, by extension, omega-3 fatty acids will also prove helpful against retinopathy due to diabetes, as well as age-related macular degeneration.

Not everyone agrees that nutritional intervention can help prevent age-related eye disorders. A 2007 article in the British Medical Journal reveals that researchers in Australia concluded from a meta-analysis of existing studies that the only lifestyle-related risk factor for macular degeneration established beyond a doubt is smoking. On the flipside, recent research on omega-3 fats is very promising. In June 2008, researchers from Australia concluded that a high dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids was associated with a 38 percent reduction in the risk of late (advanced) AMD, while eating fish twice a week was associated with a reduced risk of both early and late AMD. The study, published in the Archives of Ophthalmology, was a meta-analysis of nine previously published studies, involving a total of 88,974 individuals.

At this point scientists know that oxidative stress damages the tissues of the eye. They have known for a long time that the lens of the eye contains high levels of vitamins C and E, that the retina contains zinc as well as an unusually high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, and that the yellow color of the macula comes from lutein and zeaxanthin. Common sense suggests that consuming the water-soluble antioxidant vitamin C, the fat-soluble antioxidants vitamin E and beta-carotene, the essential mineral zinc, healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and the related carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin from my Top 10 Beauty Foods would support eye health.

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