We tend to take our sight for granted but imagine the impact on your life if you couldn't see? What are the things you do today that would be very difficult or impossible to do without your vision?
Now I know that people who have lost their sight can lead a full life but there is no doubt that things that are simple for sighted people can require a lot more thought and preparation for someone who is blind or has impaired vision.
Sight loss affects people of all ages, but becomes more prevalent as we age.
- One in five people aged 75 and over are living with sight loss.
- One in two people aged 90 and over are living with sight loss.
- Nearly two-thirds of people living with sight loss are women.
- People from black and minority ethnic communities are at greater risk of some of the leading causes of sight loss.
- Adults with learning disabilities are 10 times more likely to be blind or partially sighted than the general population.
(Source: RNIB UK)
The good news is that over 50 percent of sight loss can be avoided.
The main causes of sight loss are glaucoma, cataracts, uncorrected refractive error, diabetic retinopathy and the leading cause, age related macular degeneration.
So let's take a closer look at these causes of sight loss and what we can do to help prevent them.
There are two forms of macular degeneration, dry and wet. Both affect the macular region of the eye. This is the area of the retina that is responsible for our central vision.
Several studies have shown the underlying cause of macular degeneration to be oxidative stress in that area of the eye as well as decreased blood and oxygen supply to the retina.
The biggest risk factors for macular degeneration are smoking, aging, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)and high blood pressure. There is also a strong genetic component so if you have a family history of macular degeneration then you really need to pay attention.
This is vision loss caused by increased pressure in the eye, in most cases due to more fluid (aqueous humour) being produced than is flowing out of the eye. With normal-tension glaucoma it's not the increased pressure that causes the problem. Other factors that many be significant in chronic glaucoma are early nerve cell death, excessive glutamate production, reduces blood flow, nerve irritation or autoimmune disease.
Many people with glaucoma have no symptoms so it's really important to get regular eye examinations.
With this condition the retina is damaged by glucose molecules attaching to structural proteins in the retina, microscopic haemorrhages and scarring. People with diabetes are also prone to cataracts.
Cataracts are when the lens of the eye, that should be transparent, turns white and opaque. It happens because the protein structure of the lens gets damaged. It's a bit like the process that happens to the protein when you cook an egg, the clear egg white turns white because the protein has been denatured.
Things that can cause or contribute to cataracts are ocular disease, systemic diseases such as diabetes, injury or surgery, aging, hereditary disease and exposure to toxins, radiation, ultra-violet or near-ultraviolet light.
Key nutrients that play a role in eye health
Vitamin C - vital for collagen strength and integrity of eye tissue. Also supplemental vitamin C has shown to lower intraocular pressure in several clinical studies. It has also been shown to protect again cataract formation.
Selenium - works synergistically with vitamin E and is needed for the production of the antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase. Low selenium levels promotes cataract formation.
Vitamin E - Protects the lens against free radical damage but only when adequate levels of selenium are present.
Glutathione - known as the master antioxidant, it plays a key role in lens health. Low glutathione levels can leave the lens prone to cataracts.
Superoxide Dismutase (SOD) - an important antioxidant enzyme that protects against free radical damage in the lens. This is an endogenous antioxidant so its important to make sure you have adequate levels of trace minerals needed for your body to produce SOD such as copper, manganese and zinc.
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) - needed to maintain glutathione
N-acetylcysteine - a precursor to glutathione
Vitamin A and Beta-carotene - Vital antioxidants but beta-carotene in particular helps protect against light-induced lens damage.
Zinc - Important antioxidant and needed for the production of SOD and also plays an essential part in the metabolism of the retina.
Lutein - helps protect against macular degeneration and cataract formation.
Magnesium - improves blood flow.
Chromium - chronic glaucoma is strongly associated with chromium deficiency.
Lycopene - beneficial carotenoid found in tomatoes, carrots, green peppers, apricots and pink grapefruit.
Zeaxanthin - another carotenoid found in paprika, kiwi fruit, grapes and spinach.
Bilberry extract, grape seed extract and ginkgo biloba also benefits in the prevention of age related macular degeneration.
Top tips to help keep your peepers healthy.
As I said earlier 50 percent of sight loss can be prevented so now let's look at what you can do to keep your eyes as healthy as possible for as longs as possible.
Get regular check ups
As with the dentist, it's important to schedule a visit to the optician once a year to make sure everything is ok. As well as testing your sight, they can have a look at the macular region of your eye and test your intraocular pressure and pick up signs of any potential problem.
Don't forget your shades
Protect your eyes from strong sunlight by wearing UV protective sunglasses.
If you have glaucoma avoid caffeine. A double-blind crossover study showed that people who drank regular coffee had a greater elevation in intraocular pressure.
Exercising helps reduce intraocular pressure and is just good for you on so many levels so just get it done.
Reduce sources of free radical damage
Avoid foods that increase free radicals such as fried and char grilled foods, trans-fatty acids, processed foods and excessive animal fats, sugar and refined carbohydrates.
Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables
The lens of the eye, like many other parts of the body, depend on adequate levels of both exogenous and endogenous antioxidants to help prevent damage caused by free radicals.
Exogenous antioxidants are the nutrients you get from fruits, vegetables and supplements, such as vitamin E, C and A.
Endogenous antioxidants are ones that your body makes such as superoxide dismutase (SOD), glutathione peroxidase and catalase. Your body needs cofactors such as zinc, copper and manganese in order to be able to produce these endogenous antioxidants efficiently so you want to be eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to make sure you are getting a diverse range of antioxidants and flavonoids.
Anthocyanosides and proanthocyanosides, the blue-red pigment found in a number of fruits and plant extracts, are particularly good at preventing free radical damage.
Get your omega 3 fatty acids
Eat oily fish, nuts and seeds and add a high quality, molecularly distilled fish oil supplement with EPA and DHA or if you are vegetarian an omega 3 derived from algae.
Add a high quality, pharmaceutical grade multivitamin and mineral to your daily routine to make sure you fill any nutrient gaps and get adequate levels consistently.
So as you can see (no pun intended), there is plenty you can do to help protect your vision starting today.
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