Look after your eyes and they will look after you. Medical herbalist Gabriella Clarke looks at some summer lifestyle tweaks we can make and some supplements to consider to help us keep our eyes healthy and sparkling.
Sight is one of our most precious senses yet too often we take the health of our eyes for granted and find it hard to believe that anything could go wrong. As we get older, however, the risk of conditions, such as cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration, increases. But the good news is, although these are all part of the normal ageing process, there are things you can do to keep them at bay.
SHIELD THE SUN
On bright sunny days, wearing sunglasses is a must. The reason? Repeated exposure to invisible UVA and UVB rays in sunlight can harm your eyes and may increase the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. When choosing sunglasses always go for ones that have a CE mark or carry British Standard BSEN 1836:1997. Wraparound styles are also a good idea as is donning a broad brimmed hat when the sun is at its hottest.
GO FOR EYE CHECKS
Regular eye examinations are an important health check for eyes. Most of us should have one every two years even if we have no problems with our sight. An eye test can often pick up the first signs of things like glaucoma (damage to the optic nerve) AMD (degeneration of the macula, the part of the eye that distinguishes fine detail) or cataracts (clouding of the part of the eye called the lens) before you notice any changes in your vision.
It can also detect a number of underlying health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure, brain tumours and an increased risk of stroke. Your optometrist will advise if you need to have your eyes tested more frequently.
TAKE REGULAR SCREEN BREAKS
Staring at a computer screen all day long can cause untold strain on eyes. For a start it means you don’t blink as often as you should, which can lead to dry, irritated eyes. Try to take a screen break at least every 30 minutes, make sure your screen is clean, position your monitor 33cm – 59cm from eyes and aim for a font size of 12pt or above. An anti-glare screen on your monitor may help as can an anti-reflective coating on your lenses if you wear glasses.
FOLLOW AN EYE-FRIENDLY DIET
Foods rich in antioxidants, especially the carotenoids beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, can help lower the risk of eye problems as we age. Best sources of carotenoids include yellow, orange or dark green vegetables, such as carrots, kale, spinach and peppers.
There are several supplements that can help boost eye health and protect against future problems.
Randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials[i] show that the antioxidants Zeaxanthin, meso-zeaxanthin and Lutein can help increase macular pigment levels, improve visual function, and decrease the risk of AMD. Meanwhile, bilberries have been traditionally used to improve eyesight – so much so that during World War II, men serving in the royal air force consumed bilberry jam hoping it would improve their night vision.
Finally a hyaluronic acid supplement may help soothe dry eye syndrome as may omega-7 found in sea buckthorn oil.