Supporting and maintaining your macular and eye healthcare

The major causes of vision loss and blindness in Australia include macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma and uncorrected vision problems including uncorrected long or short sightedness (1).

Are you at risk of developing eye problems?

Causes and risk factors for vision and eye problems include:
• Smoking
• Advancing age
• Family history and genetics
• Vitamin A deficiency
• Underlying health problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some autoimmune conditions
• Exposure to ultraviolet light

There are a range of herbs and nutrients that may be beneficial to maintain healthy eyes and macular, support vision acuity and relieve eye strain. Let’s take a look at some of these herbs and nutrients.

Bilberry
Bilberry has a long history of medicinal use in Europe. The herb Bilberry is one of the richest sources of the antioxidant compound (flavonoids) called anthocynosides. These antioxidants may help to support circulation to the eye and assist in the transport of beneficial nutrients, assist in the regeneration of the light sensitive pigment rhodopsin and enhance night time vision sharpness. It has also been traditionally used to relieve the symptoms of eye strain and fatigue (2, 3). During World War 2, British pilots noted that eating Bilberry jam before a flight improved their night vision. 

Carotenoids - Lutein and Zeaxanthin
Lutein and Zeaxanthin are carotenoids with strong beneficial antioxidant properties. They occur naturally in green leafy vegetables. These compounds are found in high concentrations in the macular of the eye. They increase the density of the pigment of the macular which filters and absorbs harmful blue light and provides protection against oxidation damage. Research suggests they may assist with vision sensitivity and acuity (sharpness), prevent macular degeneration and its progression (4).

Astaxanthin
Astaxanthin is another naturally occurring carotenoid found in algae, krill, salmon, trout, crayfish, and crustaceans. It is believed to be one of the world’s most powerful antioxidants. It provides the red colour of the salmon flesh and cooked shell fish. Supplementation may have anti-inflammatory benefits, protect against ultraviolet radiation from the sun and assist in age-related macular degeneration. (5)

Beta-carotene
Beta-carotene is the carotenoid responsible for giving vegetables such as sweet potato, pumpkin and carrots their orange-red pigment.  Beta-carotene is another potent antioxidant and a natural precursor to Vitamin A, which is vital for good eye health.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Consuming higher amounts of omega 3 fatty acids are important for macular and retinal health. The retina is a thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye. Its function is to convert what we see into messages for the brain so that we can understand what we see. More specifically, the omega-3 fatty acid DHA forms part of the structure of the retina whilst EPA is a precursor to assist the function of the retina (4).  

Dietary Minerals - Zinc and Selenium
Some important minerals for eye health include Zinc and Selenium. These minerals help you to absorb antioxidants. Dietary sources of zinc include: oysters, seafood, beef and eggs. Dietary sources of Selenium are found in Brazil nuts, oysters and other seafood. 

Promoting good eye health through supplements, diet and good lifestyle practices

•  See your healthcare professional if you develop any vision changes or notice a difference in the appearance of your eyes
•  Visit your optometrist or ophthalmologist every 1-2 years for a check up
•  When you are outside wear UV-resistant sunglasses and a hat
•  Eat a diet rich in the antioxidants found in orange pigmented foods (carrots, sweet potato) and green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach)
•  Eat a diet rich in oily fish (salmon, tuna, anchovies and sardines)
•  Eat a diet rich in foods containing zinc (oysters, seafood, beef, Brazil nuts and eggs) and selenium (Brazil nuts, oysters and other seafood)
 
Some good supplements to consider in helping you with your macular and eye health include - Healthy Essentials Bilberry 1200 which also contains the carotenoids Astaxanthin, Lutein, Zeaxanthin and Beta-carotene and also Healthy Essentials Wild Norwegian Pure Omega 3.
 
References
1.    The Commonwealth of Australia.  (2005). Eye Health in Australia [Internet]. [updated 24th Nov 2014; cited 20th Feb, 2015 from http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/D1A5409787D800F2CA257C73007F12F3/$File/eyehlth.pdf

2.    Song J, Li Y, Ge J, Yongheng D, Cho-Wing Sze S, Tong Y, Shaw P, Ng T, Tsui Kc, Zhuo Y & Zhang KY, Protective effects of bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillis L.) extracts on cultured human corneal limbal epithelial cells (HCLEC) PhytotherRes. 2010;24:520–4.


3.    Zafra-Stone S, Taharat Y, Bagchi M, Chatterjee A, Vinson JA, Bagchi D. Berry anthocyanins as novel antioxidants in human health and disease prevention. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2007;51:675–83

4.    The Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) Research Group. Lutein Zeaxanthin and Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Age-Related Macular Degeneration: The Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA.2013;309(19):2005-2015. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.4997.

5.    Hussein G., Sankawa U., Goto H., Matsumoto K, & Watanabe H.  Astaxanthin, a Carotenoid with Potential in Human Health and Nutrition.  J. Nat. Prod. 2006; 69(3), 443-449

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