Balance – Eye health

Definition

The eye is one of our most important sensory organs. We visually perceive our environment through our eyes. As long as we can see well, we tend not to think much about our eyes. However, once vision becomes impaired and we develop, for example, problems when reading or driving, we begin to consider our eye health.

 

Statistically, every second person suffers from a visual impairment. A visual impairment can be congenital or caused by injuries or eye diseases such as macular degeneration, retinopathy (retinal diseases), cataracts, or glaucoma. It is now known that a balanced diet which is rich in vital nutrients, can prevent some of these diseases and can support their treatment in addition to traditional medical or naturopathic measures.


Statistisch gesehen leidet jeder zweite Mensch an einer Fehlsichtigkeit. Eine Sehschwäche kann angeboren oder durch Verletzungen und Augenerkrankungen wie z.B. der Makuladegeneration, Retinopathien (Erkrankungen der Netzhaut), Grauer Star (Katarakt) oder Grüner Star (Glaukom) bedingt sein. Es ist inzwischen bekannt, dass eine vitalstoffreiche, ausgewogene Ernährung einige dieser Krankheiten gut vorbeugen und - begleitend zu klassischen medizinischen oder naturheilkundlichen Maßnahmen - deren Behandlung unterstützen kann.

Symptoms

The indications of eye disease can be quite complex. Subjective complaints include:

  • visual loss (ranging from far or nearsightedness to blindness)

  • problems when working in front of a computer screen

  • pain from pressure

  • bloodshot eyes

  • eyestrain

  • watery or itchy eyes

  • disturbing light flashes

  •  "Black spots"

  • seeing double

  • dizziness

  • problems seeing in the dark

  • glare sensitivity

Signs of visual impairment should be checked in any case by an ophthalmologist.

Causes

The most common, age-related eye disease is cataract.  As we age, the water content in our lenses decreases. The eye is no longer sufficiently supplied with nutrients. Contrasts and colors fade. The crystalline lens thickens and becomes cloudy. Light is unable to penetrate the eye and vision becomes blurred.

Glaucoma often goes unnoticed. It is caused by excessive intraocular pressure resulting from an impairment of the outflow of the liquid which is constantly being produced inside the eye, called the aqueous humor. The aqueous humor nourishes the lens and cornea. However, increasing pressure can slowly damage the nerve fibers of the optic nerve as well as those in the retina. Once damaged, these physiological structures can no longer combine the images from each eye or transmit them to the visual center in the brain. This causes blindness. Regular testing of the intraocular pressure by an ophthalmologist can help to recognize this condition early.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in the elderly. In macular degeneration, the eye is first no longer sufficiently supplied with oxygen. This causes it to send alarm signals, which give rise to new blood vessels. However, these can often grow in an uncontrolled manner and lead to the retina becoming clouded.

About every fourth German suffers from what is known as "dry eye" (sicca syndrome). A healthy eye blinks about 10 times per minute. The cornea is coated with a light, moisturizing oily film. In the case of dry eyes, this film is damaged. The eyes are irritated and become red.

However, there are other diseases - diseases which one would not primarily connect to the eyes - which can take their toll on eye health. These include, for instance, Diabetes mellitus (diabetic retinopathy), hypertension, stroke, etc.

Natural remedies and their effects

A healthy lifestyle with an adequate supply of vital nutrients, such as vitamins, trace elements, and phytochemicals, is the most important prerequisite for eye health.  Specifically, the adequate supply of essential fatty acids play an important role in eye health.

Omega-3 fatty acids protect the retina

The omega-3 fatty acids alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are long chain, polyunsaturated fatty acids. DHA is an essential component of our cell membranes and indispensable for cell growth and regeneration. Its roles in eye health are very diverse. In the retina, DHA in particular plays a key role. It keeps the cell membranes flexible (fluid), which is critical for maintaining cell function.

In the first four to six months of life, DHA is incorporated in particularly high concentrations into the cell membranes of the retina and the visual cortex in the occipital lobe of the brain. DHA is crucial for the development and maintenance of visual acuity and visual performance.

DHA also appears to exhibit protective effects against developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD).  Studies have shown that the risk of AMD is significantly reduced in people who took an increased intake of DHA. It is believed that AMD is caused by the hardening of the blood vessels which supply the retina. It has already been established through cardiovascular studies that increasing one’s daily intake of EPA and DHA can counteract the damage of arteriosclerosis. Furthermore, the anti-inflammatory eicosanoids - which are synthesized from EPA – seem likewise to have play an important role. Our bodies are capable of interconverting DHA to EPA and vice versa as necessary.

 

Furthermore, a study carried out by Biljana Miljanovic et al. (2005)* found that an increased intake of fish - and thus EPA / DHA – lowers the risk of developing dry eyes (sicca syndrome) – a condition which effects many of the elderly.

Carotenoids as antioxidants

Carotenoids are counted among the so-called phytochemicals and exhibit antioxidant effects. They help protect cells from damage caused by the free radicals. A sufficient supply of antioxidants significantly decreases the risk of developing AMD. The most important antioxidants for eye health are lutein and zeaxanthin.

 

An optimal supply of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, along with the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are essential for the health of our eyes.

Nutrition and Co.

Our diet has a great impact on the health of our eyes.

Just as all other organs, our eyes are supplied with nutrients from our daily diet via our blood stream.  Our eyes are incapable of producing the nutrients and vital substances which they require to replenish the macula (retina) on their own. Therefore, these substances must be taken in through food. Aside from the important phytochemicals lutein and zeaxanthin, which can be found in many vegetables, an adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids is also necessary.

 

The daily intake of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) through flaxseed oil supplemented with DHA (pure vegetable origin, produced by specially cultivated algae) provides the body with these important, essential fatty acids. The Budwig cream, composed of quark and flax seed oil, is one delicious example of an optimal dietary staple, thus contributing to the preservation of eye health.

Studies

Arch Ophthalmol. 2009 May;127(5):656-65. doi: 10.1001/archophthalmol.2009.76.

Dietary fatty acids and the 10-year incidence of age-related macular degeneration: the Blue Mountains Eye Study.

Tan JS1, Wang JJ, Flood V, Mitchell P.


*Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Oct; 82(4): 887–893.

The relationship between dietary n-3 and n-6 fatty acids and clinically diagnosed dry eye syndrome in women

Biljana Miljanović, Komal A. Trivedi, M. Reza Dana, Jeffery P. Gilbard, Julie E. Buring, and Debra A. Schaumberg

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