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National Eye Health Week

4 min read

This year National Eye Health Week takes place from Monday 20th September through to Sunday 26th of September. It's a week to shout about the importance of looking after your eyes and how you can go about doing just that.

Did you know that 2 million people in the UK are living with sight loss and in half of these cases sight loss was avoidable? Understanding the link between diet and good eye health, as well as other lifestyle factors and of course regular eye tests are so important in protecting against vision loss.

Regular eye tests

Ensuring you undergo regular eye tests is essential in maintaining healthy eyes and detecting issues early on so that they can be treated before sight loss becomes an issue.

As an added bonus other health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes can be detected during a sight test, before symptoms of these conditions present themselves.

A regular eye test means once every 2 years for most but it should be more frequently if you have a family history of eye conditions or if you're over 40yrs of age and of Afro-Carribean or Asian origin.

There are other things you can do to keep your eyes in top top condition.

Diet is key

Studies show that what we eat can significantly affect our vision. Key nutrients for optimal eye health include Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, B vitamins, Zinc, Omega-3's, Lutein and Zeaxanthin.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, and in particular DHA include fish like salmon, tuna and sardines. DHA provides structural support to cell membranes and may be beneficial for dry eyes. Research has also shown that just one portion of oily fish per week may reduce the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration.

Anthocyanins 

Anthocyanins are a type of flavanoid found in dark skinned fruit like blackcurrants, blackberries and blueberries that exhibit an antioxidant effect. They have long been used to treat a number of conditions involving blood vessel health including diabetic retinopathy.

Lutein and zeaxanthin

The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, are pigments produced by plants that give fruits and vegetables a yellow to reddish colour. They are powerful antioxidants best known for protecting your eyes. 

Lutein and zeaxanthin are the only dietary carotenoids that can be found in the retina, particularly the macula region, which is located at the back of your eye.

As well as mopping up damaging free radicals they also act as a natural sunblock by absorbing excess light energy, in particular high energy blue light.

Lutein and zeaxanthin may help prevent age-related eye diseases such as macular degeneration and cataracts. These carotenoids may also reduce discomfort from glare and enhance visual contrast.

B vitamins 

Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) appears in all cells and is essential for vision and cognitive functioning.

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) behaves like an antioxidant combating free radicals that damage tissues in the eyes. It is important for vision because it helps the retina receive light.

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenate) is an essential nutrient supporting macular health. It it important to normal vision because it supports nerve health, the metabolism of fatty acids, and is part of the synthesis of vitamin A.

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) is often included in vision health formulations. Most macular degeneration patients are deficient in this vitamin.  

Vitamin B7 (Biotin) supports vision health as well as skin and hair health, normal blood sugar levels, healthy heart functioning, nervous system support, digestive metabolism, and cell growth.

Deficiency in complex B Vitamins may increase your risk of cataracts and retinopathy.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a group of antioxidant compounds that play an important role in eye health. Vitamin A protects the surface of the eye (cornea) and is essential for good vision.

Vitamin A, when in combination with other antioxidant vitamins, also appears to play a role in decreasing the risk of vision loss from macular degeneration. In the landmark Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) sponsored by the National Eye Institute, people with mild or moderate AMD who took a daily multivitamin that included vitamin A (as beta-carotene), vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc and copper had a 25% reduced risk of advanced AMD during a six-year period.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant therefore protects eye cells from unstable molecules called free radicals, which break down healthy eye tissue. It is an important agent against cataracts and macular degeneration.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a health powerhouse. In addition to providing antioxidants, it can also help slow cataracts and provide needed eye vitamins for macular degeneration.

Zinc

Zinc is a mineral that helps maintain the health of the retina, cell membranes, and protein structure of the eye. It helps to transport vitamin A from your liver to this area, allowing your eye to produce melanin, a protective pigment in the eye.

It is easy to see that eating the right vitamins for eyesight can provide an excellent defence against vision problems that often arrive later in life. Fresh vegetables and fruit can naturally provide many of the vitamins needed for healthy vision but today's busy lifestyles often mean we're not always eating enough of the right sorts of food. This means we miss out on essential nutrients so taking supplements can be really beneficial.

Other lifestyle factors affecting Eye Health

Smoking: After ageing, smoking is the biggest risk factor for developing macular degeneration. Smoking also increases your risk of developing cataracts.

Exercise: Lack of exercise contributes significantly to several eye conditions, particularly amongst people aged 60 and over. Exercise may reduce the risk of sight loss from narrowing or hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Sunlight: Protecting your eyes from the sun is very important and should not be underestimated. In bright sunshine always wear sunglasses and never look at the sun directly. Your sunglasses should have the CE mark on them which ensures that they are giving you the right level of protection against ultraviolet light.

Related Supplements

A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.
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