They are two of your most precious possessions, but chances are, you take your eyes for granted. Most of us do. But think for a second what life would be like without being able to gaze on your grandchild or your flower garden or even navigate the kitchen without incident.
Prevent Blindness America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to vision issues, estimates that 50,000 people lose their sight needlessly every year and that 80 million Americans are at risk of eye diseases that can lead to low vision and even blindness.
The good news: The most common diseases — age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), cataracts, glaucoma, and dry eye disease — are all preventable to some extent. Read on to see (pun intended) how you can get Stealth Healthy protection for your peepers. Before we go any further, we have to tell you that the first step, if you smoke, is to stop. Smoking increases your risk of cataracts, glaucoma, dry eyes, and age-related macular degeneration.
1. Mix a cup of blueberries with a cup of yogurt for breakfast this morning. Blueberries are one of the richest fruit forms of antioxidants, and a study published in The Archives of Ophthalmology found that women and men who ate the greatest amount of fruit were the least likely to develop age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), the leading cause of blindness in older people.
2. Spread bilberry jam on your morning toast. Or take a bilberry supplement every morning. The berries contain compounds called anthocyanosides, which may protect the retina against macular degeneration.
3. Have spinach twice a week. Could be a spinach quiche, steamed spinach, or maybe Tuscan spinach — sautéed in some olive oil with garlic and raisins. Regardless, be sure to get your spinach. Studies find that lutein, a nutrient that is particularly abundant in spinach, may prevent age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Ideally, get your lutein in combination with some form of fat (olive oil works great) for the best absorption.
4. Cook with red onions, not yellow. Red onions contain far more quercetin, an antioxidant that is thought to protect against cataracts.
5. Aim your car vents at your feet — not your eyes. Dry, air-conditioned air will suck the moisture out of eyes like a sponge. Aim the vents in your car away from your eyes, or wear sunglasses as a shield. Dry eyes can be more than an inconvenience; serious dryness can lead to corneal abrasions and even blindness if left untreated.
6. Move your computer screen to just below eye level. Your eyes will close slightly when you’re staring at the computer, minimizing fluid evaporation and the risk of dry eye syndrome, says John Sheppard, M.D., who directs the ophthalmology residency program at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia.
7. Take a multivitamin every day. Make it a habit, like brushing your teeth. A major study suggested that if every American at risk for age-related macular degeneration took daily supplements of antioxidant vitamins and zinc, more than 300,000 people could avoid ARMD-associated vision loss over the next five years. Other studies find that women who took vitamin C supplements for at least 10 years were 77 percent less likely to show initial signs of cataracts than those who took no supplemental C. So take a multi with at least 150 mg vitamin C, or take a separate C supplement.
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8. Walk at least four times a week. Some evidence suggests that regular exercise can reduce the intraocular pressure, or IOP, in people with glaucoma. In one study, glaucoma patients who walked briskly four times per week for 40 minutes lowered their IOP enough so they could stop taking medication for their condition. It’s also possible — although there’s no proof yet — that walking could also reduce your overall risk of developing glaucoma.
9. Eat fish twice a week. A study from Harvard researchers presented at the 2003 Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology’s annual meeting evaluated the diets of 32,470 women and found those who ate the least amount of fish (thus getting the least amount of omega-3 fatty acids) had the highest risk of dry eye syndrome. Even tuna fish (yes, the kind that comes in a can) protected against the syndrome. If you can’t stand fish, or are worried about mercury consumption, try fish-oil supplements to get your omega-3s.
10. Twice a week, walk away from greasy or sweet snacks. A 2001 study found that people whose diets were high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in omega-6 fatty acids (found in many fat-filled snack foods like commercially prepared pie, cake, cookies, and potato chips) were significantly less likely to develop ARMD than those whose diets were high in omega-6 fatty acids and low in omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, if your diet was high in omega-6 at all — even if you still ate plenty of fish — the protective effects of the omega-3 fatty acids disappeared.
11. Have sweet potatoes for dinner tonight. Since they are rich in vitamin A, these sweet spuds can help improve your night vision.
12. Turn down the heat in your house. Heat dries out the air, which, in turn, dries out your eyes. In the winter, you might also try adding some humidity with a humidifier or even bunching a lot of plants together in the room in which you spend the most time.