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Enhancing Eye Health Naturally
Enhancing Eye Health Naturally
From the moment you wake up until the moment you go to bed again at night, you are using your eyes. Vision is crucial to our quality of life, yet so many of us take it for granted. According to the National Eye Institute, the number of Americans who have eye diseases and vision problems is on the rise and is expected to continue growing.
Any condition affecting the eye is classified as an eye disorder. Eye disorders can affect any part of the eye, including the eyelids, eyelashes, iris, pupil, lens or sclera (the "white" of the eye). Nerves, muscles and blood vessels that surround the eye can also be affected by eye disorders.
Eye disorders may include any of the following: vision problems, including astigmatism (vision difficulties due to a football-shaped cornea); diabetic retinopathy; nearsightedness or farsightedness; conjunctivitis; keratitis (inflammation of the cornea); dry eye; glaucoma; age-related macular degeneration; and cataracts.
If you notice any changes in vision, blurriness, blind spots, halos around lights or dimness of vision, you should consult a healthcare professional. Such changes may represent an eye disease, aging, eye or brain injury or a condition like diabetes that affects many organs in the body. Whatever the cause, you should never ignore vision changes: They can get worse and significantly impact the quality of your life.
So what can you do to help maintain good eye health? You may be surprised to learn that your diet can play an important role in supporting the well-being of your eyes.
Eat foods rich in vitamin A
Mom may have been right when she told you to eat your carrots, which are rich in vitamin A. Based on Natural Standard's research, scientific evidence strongly suggests that eating enough vitamin A can help reduce the risk of various eye disorders, such as dry eye or Bitot's spot (a buildup of debris in the conjunctiva, the thin membrane in the front of the eye).
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is derived from two sources: preformed retinoids and provitamin carotenoids. Retinoids, such as retinol and retinoic acid, are found in animal sources such as liver, kidney, eggs and dairy products. Carotenoids such as beta-carotene (which has the highest vitamin A activity) are found in plants, including dark and yellow vegetables and carrots.
Bonus: Vitamin A provides benefits beyond eye health. Some research suggests it may help prevent some types of cancer, aid in growth and development and improve immune function.
Dine on some iodine
Good clinical evidence suggests iodine may be used to treat some eye disorders. Povidone-iodine solutions appear to have antibacterial properties and have been used to manage bacterial conjunctivitis in children. These solutions may also be used for ophthalmia neonatorum, a type of bacterial conjunctivitis with eye discharge that occurs during the first month of life. Povidone-iodine solutions are also used before eye surgery to prevent infection.
The recommended dietary allowance of iodine is about 150 mcg daily, which most people are able to meet by eating seafood, iodized salt and plants grown in iodine-rich soil. One-quarter teaspoon of iodized table salt provides 95 mcg of iodine. Seafood is rich in iodine, because marine animals can concentrate the iodine from seawater. Certain types of seaweed, such as wakame and kelp, are also very rich in iodine. If you're concerned about getting enough iodine, talk to a pharmacist about taking a multivitamin or multimineral supplements, many of which contain iodine in the forms of potassium iodide or sodium iodide.
Other integrative therapies
Research has been conducted on a number of other supplements and therapies to determine their effectiveness in supporting eye health. Here are a few of them:
Acupuncture, a technique that involves inserting and manipulating needles into specific points on the body with the aim of restoring health and well-being, has been explored for the treatment of dry eyes. However, there is insufficient evidence to confirm its benefits at this time.
Chondroitin is mainly used to treat osteoarthritis. It is sometimes a component of eye solutions used for keratoconjunctivitis, corneal preservation and intraocular pressure. These solutions should only be used under the supervision of an ophthalmologist, since there is a potential for an allergic reaction in people with shellfish allergy. Research is still ongoing to determine the benefits of chondroitin for eye health.
Eyebright is an herb that has been used for centuries in Europe as a rinse, compress or bath against eye infections and other eye-related irritations. When taken by mouth, eyebright can been used to treat inflammation of nasal mucous membranes and sinusitis. However, more evidence is needed to draw conclusions about the potential of eyebright for eye disorders.
Although promising, these potential methods have unclear or conflicting scientific evidence and require more scientific evidence before conclusions can be made.
Speak to a qualified healthcare professional
Your doctor or pharmacist can help you decide which supplements or therapies may work best for you to help you maintain good eye health.
Taking care of your eyes now can help your eyes take care of you for many years to come.
Dr. Catherine Ulbricht is one of the founders of Natural Standard, a key Wellness Times content partner. Watch this video about Natural Standard featuring Dr. Ulbricht.
Dr. Ulbricht is a cofounder of Natural Standard Research Collaboration. She serves as Senior Attending Pharmacist, Massachusetts General Hospital and Adjunct/Assistant Clinical Professor at multiple universities. She serves on the Editorial Board of Harvard Health Publications, Journal of the American Nutraceutical Association, Journal of Integrative Cancer Medicine, Pharmacy Practice News and many others. She is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Dietary Supplements. Her background includes experience in the areas of quality improvement, healthcare informatics, regulatory affairs, clinical trial protocol analysis and drug therapy decision-support. She has also been trained in physical therapy and chiropractic care. For more information on the Natural Standard Research Collaboration visit NaturalStandard.com.
April 5th, 2012