Summary: The benefits of good nutrition are well known for general health but a healthy, balanced diet is also important for eye health. There is also a strong link between smoking and AMD.
As well as making sure to include certain vitamins in your daily diet, it is important to maintain healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels, which are risk factors for eye conditions such as diabetic retinopathy.
Age and deteriorating eyesight
We all know that our eyesight may get worse as we get older, but why is that? It’s caused by changes in our body generally that also affect our eyes.
Oxygen, while essential, can also be harmful. Our body’s cells need oxygen but naturally produce “free radicals” in the process. Free radicals damage cells, including the retina and the lens in the eye. Antioxidants fight free radicals and protect cells from damage to ensure that they continue to work effectively. The chemicals inhaled from smoking damage the blood vessels behind the eyes and prevent antioxidants from repairing the damage.
Well-known antioxidants include:
Vitamin A and Carotenoids
Bright-coloured vegetables and fruits such as carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, tomatoes, peaches and apricots, and also broccoli.
Dark green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli, green pepers and spinach, and citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons and limes.
Found in wholegrains, nuts, seeds and leafy, green vegetables.
Nutrition and age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
Evidence has shown that eating fresh fruits and dark green, leafy vegetables – foods rich in vitamins C and E, selenium, and carotenoids – may delay the onset or reduce the severity of AMD.
The macula is a small and highly sensitive part of the retina that is responsible for colour vision and detailed central vision. It is the macula that enables us to read, watch television, and recognise faces.
One very important component in fighting off AMD is macular pigment. We are not born with macular pigment; it comes from our diet and is primarily composed of organic chemicals called carotenoids (lutein, zeaxanthin and mezo-zeaxanthin), which can be found in fresh fruits and dark green, leafy vegetables, which are also rich in vitamins C and E. The level of macular pigment in your eye is a good indication of overall eye health.
Link between smoking and sight loss
We all know that smoking causes lung cancer and heart disease, but the link between smoking and sight loss, while just as evident, has not been highlighted in the same way.
Smoking increases the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD). In fact smokers are up to four times more likely to develop AMD than non-smokers and studies have shown that smokers develop AMD ten years earlier than people who have never smoked.
Smoking is not only related to AMD but is also linked to cataracts and diabetic retinopathy.
How does smoking affect eyesight?
When you smoke you inhale over 4,000 chemicals. These chemicals damage the blood vessels behind your eyes by preventing essential antioxidants – which protect cells from damage – from working effectively.
Smoking increases the production of free radicals, which speeds up the ageing process and prevents your body from absorbing essential antioxidants from food.
Smoking is the one cause of AMD that you can do something about, but most people are not aware of the links between smoking and sight loss.
Make the Change
For more information on nutrition speak to your GP.
For help with giving up smoking contact the National Smokers’ Quitline on 1850 201 201 or talk to your GP.
The information provided here is intended to educate the reader about certain medical issues and should not be used for clinical diagnosis.