Taking care of your eyes naturally
Taking care of your eyes naturally
For the most part, we accept what’s handed to us genetically when it comes to our eyesight and the health of eyes. But are there some ways we can promote good eye health through a healthy diet, better lifestyle choices and some supportive supplements? The answer is yes!
Common eye conditions
The four most common eye conditions leading to loss of vision or blindness are:
- Cataracts – a clouding of your eye’s lens. This cloudy lens can develop in one or both eyes. Cataracts are the world’s leading cause of blindness.
- Diabetes-related retinopathy – ongoing damage to blood vessels in the retina due to long-term uncontrolled high sugar levels in your blood. Your retina is the light-sensitive tissue in your eye that is needed for clear vision.
- Glaucoma – an eye disease that results from higher-than-normal fluid pressure in the eye. The pressure damages your optic nerve, which affects how visual information is transmitted to your brain.
- Age-related macular degeneration – is an eye disease that affects your central vision. It damages the macula, which is the centre area of your retina that allows you to see fine details.
Other conditions include:
- Retinal detachment is a separation or detachment of the retina from its underlying tissues that hold it in place within your eye.
- Refractive eye problems cause you to have issues with focus. Light is improperly bent as it passes through your cornea and lens.
- Presbyopia is the inability to focus over a range of vision.
- Eye floaters are clumps or deposits that float in your eye’s vitreous fluid (the clear, jelly-like substance in the middle of your eye)
- Dry eye is when your tear glands can’t make enough tears or produce low quality tears and can’t adequately lubricate the surface of your eyes. 
Plus, most of us have experienced dry, red eyes and eye strain when you’ve been staring at a computer screen all day or driving long distances.
The gut and eye health
Did you know that there is such a thing as the ocular microbiome? Just as we have a gut microbiome, so too do we have an ocular microbiome containing bacteria, viruses and fungi. It’s not as diverse as what you’d find in the gut, but research suggests that it impacts the health of our eyes, protecting our eyes from infection and disease.
Research also suggests that the gut microbiota affects the eyes via the gut–retina axis. The gut–retina axis is a network of nerves that connects the enteric nervous system of the gut with the nerves of the eyes. Several recent studies indicate that gut dysbiosis and intestinal permeability contribute to the development of eye conditions by sending inflammatory signals from the gut to the eyes along the gut–retina axis. 
Diet for good eye health
Research tells us that antioxidants and minerals (A, C, and E, and the mineral zinc) help prevent the progression of macular degeneration.
There are high levels of free radicals (molecules that damage proteins and DNA in cells) within the retina and especially the macula. Antioxidants fight free radicals which protect the retina from this damage.
Lutein and zeaxanthin
Lutein and zeaxanthin are yellow carotenoid antioxidants known as macular pigments. They are found in the retina, and dietary intake of these compounds has been shown to have antioxidant properties and to improve pigment density in the macula. This pigment absorbs excess blue and ultraviolet light and neutralises free radicals. Lutein and zeaxanthin are usually found together in food. You’ll find lutein abundant in most fruits and vegetables, especially yellow and orange varieties and leafy greens, as well as egg yolks, sweetcorn and red grapes. 
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an essential cofactor in the production of energy for cells and a potent antioxidant that protects lipids, proteins, and DNA from oxidative damage. CoQ10 protects the eyes from oxidative stress induced by ultraviolet light exposure. 
Omega-3 fatty acid
The long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are important for eye health. The omega-3 fatty acid DHA is present in high concentrations in the outer segments of retinal photoreceptors and bring anti-inflammatory properties.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in cold water fish, flaxseed, and walnuts.
Zinc is important in maintaining the health of the retina, given that zinc is an essential constituent of many enzymes and needed for optimal metabolism of the eye. Zinc ions are present in the enzyme superoxide dismutase, which plays an important role in scavenging superoxide radicals.  Good sources of zinc include red meat, pumpkin seeds and shellfish.
Vitamin A deficiency is one of the most common causes of blindness globally and maintains the eyes’ light-sensing cells, also known as photoreceptors.
Vitamin A is only found in animal-derived foods. The richest dietary sources include liver, egg yolks, and dairy products. You can also get vitamin A from antioxidant plant compounds called provitamin A carotenoids, found in high amounts in some fruits and vegetables. One of these is beta-carotene which you can find in kale, spinach, and carrots. 
The concentration of vitamin C is higher in the aqueous humour of the eye than in any other body fluid. How much vitamin C is present in the aqueous humour is related to dietary intake. Research has found that people who take Vitamin C supplements are less likely to develop cataracts. Vitamin C is available in a variety of food sources including citrus fruits, broccoli, kale and capsicums.
Vitamin E is a group of fat-soluble antioxidants that protect fatty acids from harmful oxidation. Fats, which are an integral part of all cell membranes, are vulnerable to destruction through oxidation by free radicals. Vitamin attacks free radicals to prevent a chain reaction of lipid oxidation. This is important, given that the retina is highly concentrated in fatty acids. 
The best dietary sources of vitamin E include almonds, sunflower seeds, and vegetable oils like flaxseed oil.
Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA)
Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is an omega-6 fatty acid with anti-inflammatory properties found in small amounts in food.
The richest sources of GLA are evening primrose oil and starflower oil.
Lifestyle choices for good eye health
Exercising regularly can lower your risk of health conditions that can cause eye health or vision problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
Protect your eyes
Wear sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB radiation.
Wear protective eyewear that are designed to protect your eyes during activities such as playing sports, doing construction work or doing home repairs.
Give your eyes a rest from looking at the computer. Rest your eyes by taking a break every 20 minutes to look at something about 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
If you wear contacts, take steps to prevent eye infections. Always wash your hands before you put your contact lenses in or take them out. Be sure to disinfect your contact lenses and replace them regularly. 
Herbs for good eye health
There are several herbs that are good for keeping your eyes healthy. These include:
Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) Eyebright has been used to treat eye problems for many years, hence its name. It may help relieve irritated, inflamed eyes, but more studies are needed to confirm this. You can take this in the form of a tea or tincture.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) improves blood flow to the retina and research suggests extracts improve vision in people with glaucoma. It is also an antioxidant and protects nerve cells.
Coleus (Coleus forskohlii) contains forskolin which reduces the production of fluid in the eye, thereby reducing pressure. It may have relevance in the treatment of glaucoma.
Green tea (Camellia sinensis) contains antioxidants that reduce oxidative damage. Some studies have shown that treating retinal cells with green tea’s polyphenols protects them from damage from ultraviolet light.
Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) contains antioxidant flavonoids called anthocyanins which have been shown to improve night vision, manage cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.
Garlic helps to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and can also help prevent cataract development and promote proper lens focusing due to the sulphur and quercetin it contains.
Turmeric contains the potent antioxidant curcumin, a bright yellow substance from the root of the turmeric, which has been shown to protect against cataract formation in rats, both alone and in combination with vitamin E. 
How we can help
In addition to regular eye examinations, a holistic approach to caring for your eyes can help your eye health in the long term. Optimising the gut microbiome, eating a varied diet full of nutrients and maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise all contribute to promoting healthy eyes.
At Advanced Functional Medicine, our expert health practitioners can create a nutritional plan, complete with supplements and herbs, to ensure you are receiving all the vitamins and minerals you need to keep, not only your eyes healthy, but your whole body. Contact us to find out more.