Maintaining healthy vision is a matter increasingly left to high-tech therapies. Laser surgery, telescopic implants, and even artificial eyes are all treatments of tomorrow and are becoming more refined and common as technology appears and improves.
However, all that progress doesn’t mean that we should ignore more low-tech solutions. Eye exercises are a piece of that particular puzzle. Another one that’s often ignored is nutrition. Proper nutrition can improve health for just about any body part you can name and eyes are absolutely included.
Antioxidants have received more and more attention of late as possible solutions to a couple of different vision maladies. While researchers are still working to understand their precise role in the body, studies have shown enormous promise in using diet to treat vision disorders.
What Are Antioxidants?
As the name suggests, antioxidants are a class of molecules that protect other molecules from a chemical process known as oxidation. Oxidation occurs when one chemical removes electrons from another chemical. These reactions are a common part of biological chemistry, and lie behind an enormous number of processes necessary for life. However, they have another side.
“Free radicals” is a term frequently tossed around by supplement marketers, but they’re more than a sales buzzword. Free radicals are formed when a chemical structure has an intrinsically unstable electron count, a frequent effect of oxidation. The atoms, ions, or molecules with these awkward setups are highly reactive, both toward themselves and other chemicals. In some cases, the interactions they begin can lead to a free radical chain reaction, in which they turn other substances into free radicals, which repeat the step accordingly.
If you skimmed through all that, here’s the upshot: a free radical chain reaction can cause damage to or even kill a cell.
And that’s where antioxidants come in. These special chemicals can neutralize a chain reaction and stop further oxidation reactions by being oxidized themselves. The net effect is a substance that can shield tissues in the body from the ill effects of oxidation reactions.
Uses of Antioxidants
While we have a decent idea of how antioxidants behave chemically, applying that knowledge medically can be a challenge. However, plenty of studies have shown potentially beneficial effects from increased antioxidant intake.
For example, there’s long been solid evidence that antioxidant-rich diets can help prevent some cancers, as well as atherosclerotic heart disease, the primary contributing factor to heart attacks. Oxidative reactions are suspected to be part of the cause for both of those diseases, making antioxidants a natural defense.
Oxidative stress has also been a proposed mechanism in Alzheimer’s disease, as well as Parkinson’s and diabetes, some of the worst degenerative conditions you’re likely to hear about. And they’re hardly alone – the damage caused by oxidation has been pointed at as a possible cause of many diseases and disorders.
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A Focus on Eye Health
Two eye disorders in particular seem to be affected by antioxidant levels. Age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, is likely the most notorious. AMD affects a surprisingly large slice of aging populations. The disorder affects central vision and if allowed to progress, can easily rob a sufferer of the sight in one or both of their eyes. While conventional treatment often revolves around surgery, dietary changes have shown promise in fighting AMD.
The Age-Related Eye Disease Study from the National Eye Institute found that an antioxidant cocktail containing vitamins C, E, beta-carotene, and zinc, reduced vision loss by an impressive 19 percent, making it the first treatment to slow AMD, suggesting that oxidative changes may lie behind the progression of the disease, and also highlighting the possible use of dietary supplements in fighting AMD.
Cataracts, which occur when the lens of an eye becomes cloudy, may also be partly caused by oxidation. Several studies have found that long-term – in many cases, more than 10 years – use of vitamin supplements could reduce the odds of a person suffering from cataracts. If that’s all enough to get you hunting for a few antioxidant sources, read on.
Sources of Antioxidants
Your best bet for securing a load of antioxidants is to listen to some classic maternal advice: eat your fruits and veggies. Check over this list for a few highlights:
- Leafy greens are a great natural source of antioxidant Vitamin C. Citrus (also wonderful for preventing scurvy), broccoli, tomatoes, and spinach are all extremely high in ascorbic acid, the main dietary form of the vitamin.
- Berries are another excellent way to get your mouth around several different classes of antioxidant. Blueberries, strawberries, goji berries, cranberries, and blackberries all pack a solid antioxidant punch.
- Don’t make “green and leafy” your only vegetable class. Orange and yellow veggies produce sun-protective pigments rich in retinol, a dietary form of Vitamin A that may perform similar roles in the eye.
- Nuts, whole grains, and even fish-liver oil are other possible sources.
Failing these, you may want to consider grabbing a natural supplement. While plenty do exist, not all are created equal. Research possible options to make sure that they’re designed specifically to address eye health before starting a regimen.
In some cases, antioxidants can actually cause problems. Beta-carotene may cause alarming spikes in lung cancer for heavy smokers – the effect even stopped a study in Finland. Yet another trial found a possible correlation between supplements and skin cancer in women.
Bottom line, bump up your dietary sources of antioxidants first – even if a tomato won’t cure AMD, it will make you a healthier person in general. Supplements should only be taken to address specific needs. For example, if you are concerned about AMD, or already deal with the disease, then you may want to consider researching and purchasing a supplement designed to deal with AMD.