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Natural Vision Health and Wellness
Mary Bove, ND Medical Educator , Gaia Herbs

Vision disability is one of the top 10 disabilities among adults 18 years and older and one of the most prevalent disabling conditions among children. Approximately 6.8% of children younger than 18 years in the United States have a diagnosed eye or vision condition. Vision loss causes a substantial social and economic toll for millions of people including significant suffering; disability; loss of productivity; and inability to drive, read, keep accounts, or travel in unfamiliar places; thus, they significantly compromise their quality of life. People with vision loss are more likely to report depression, diabetes, hearing impairment, stroke, falls, cognitive decline, and premature death. The leading causes of vision disability in the United States are primarily age-related eye diseases such as refractive errors, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataract, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma.

Early detection and timely treatment of eye conditions such as diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) has been found to be efficacious along with preventative lifestyle practices including weight management, healthy eye diet, using sunglasses, resting the eyes, and getting plenty of antioxidants.

Antioxidants quench free radicals, which cause oxidative damage throughout the body, including the eyes. Low levels of antioxidants correlate with an increased risk of cataracts, macular degeneration, and glaucoma. A higher dietary intake of antioxidants acts to protect against age-associated eye diseases. Helpful antioxidants for the eyes include: vitamin C, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, alpha lipoic acid, chia seed oil, carotenoids, and several specific herbs. There are many antioxidant-rich foods that can be included regularly in the diet that also provide the eyes with an abundance of helpful phytonutrient compounds such as: bilberry, blueberry, raspberry, black currant, strawberry, green leafy vegetables, turmeric root, and green tea. Omega-3 fatty acids bring an antiinflammatory action decreasing oxidative damage in the eye and helping to maintain the fluidity of the cell membrane. Foods rich in omega-3 oils include cold-water fish, flaxseed, and hempseeds.

Give your Eyes a Rest
Try the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look away about 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds. This short exercise can help reduce eyestrain.

Carotenoids for Eye Health
Carotenoids are a class of organic compounds which occur naturally in orange, red, and yellow plant pigments found in many herbs, fruits, and vegetables. Zeaxanthin, astaxanthin, and lutein both cross the blood-brainretina barriers making them particularly important eye nutrients, as many of the other carotenoids do not cross the bloodbrain- retina barrier. Several research studies have found that higher levels of lutein and zeaxanthin in the diet are associated with a lower incidence of AMD and cataracts. Zeaxanthin is abundant in diets rich in fresh, raw, vegetables and some fruits. One of the best sources of lutein is from egg yolks. Astaxanthin on the other hand is less commonly found in the diet, being a red carotenoid pigment most commonly occurring in marine and aquatic animals, especially salmon, giving it the familiar pink color. Astaxanthin is found in the microalgae, Haematococcus pluvialis. Due to the fact that crustacean sea animals eat the microalgae, astaxanthin is also found naturally in crustacean seafood such as shrimp. Astaxanthin is sometimes referred to as "nature's sunscreen" because the carotenoids in it help protect against UVA damage caused by the sun. It easily crosses into the tissues of the eye and acting as an oxidative quencher with more potency than any of the other carotenoids. Similar to lutein, astaxanthin helps to prevent and treat atherosclerosis, AMD, cataracts, and protects from eye damage due to sunburn and radiation exposure.

Anthocyanins and Proanthocyanidins for Eye Health
Anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins are compounds found in plants, particularly berries that have powerful antioxidant properties. They provide some of the coloring of plants, flowers, and fruits. They are the largest group of watersoluble pigments in the plant kingdom and belong to the family of compounds known as flavonoids.

Grapes and berries are particularly rich in these phytonutrients. Bilberry Extract (Vaccinium myrtillus) has key bioflavonoids and antioxidants including anthocyanosides, anthocyanins, ellagitannins, and proanthocyanidins all influencing eye health via the inhibition of free-radical scavengers, quenching of lipid and protein oxidation, and tissue protective activity. Anthocyanins repair and protect genomic DNA integrity and exhibited high ORAC (Oxygen-Radical Absorbing Capacity) antioxidant value.

Herbs for Eye Health
Green tea (Camellia sinensis) contains antioxidants, which quench free radicals and protect against oxidative damage underlying many chronic eye diseases, including glaucoma, macular degeneration, and cataracts. The polyphenols contained in green tea protects the retina cells from the damaging affects of ultraviolet light. Regular use of two cups daily in the diet will provide epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), luteolin, and apigenin along with other antioxidant-acting green tea catachins.

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) improves blood flow to the retina bringing oxygen and essential nutrients to the cells of the eye, while providing a neuro-protective and antioxidant action.

Turmeric root (curcuma longa) is a functional food containing a group of compounds called Curcumnoids, the main therapeutic polyphenol, being the potent antioxidant curcumin. Curcumin has been shown to protect against cataract formation both alone and in combination with vitamin E. It exhibits strong antiinflammatory action inhibiting many pro-inflammatory substances, which contributes to eye and vision compromise along with being neuro-protective to the nerves in the eye.

Current Pharmaceutical Design, Volume 18, Number 1, January 2012, pp. 91-99(9)

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