Yes, it’s a maternal line, but when we’re talking eye health, it’s an important one. One of the most tried and universally true medical quotes you’ll ever encounter is credited to Paracelsus, a Renaissance scientist and the father of toxicology: “Sola dosis venum facit.” Translated, that comes out to “the dose makes the poison.”
Simple, but absolutely true, and definitely so when we’re talking eye health. While we often talk about how beneficial some foods and supplements are for your eyes, those same things can become problematic if they’re taken in excess. And believe it or not, the opposite sometimes holds true; a few things that are generally perceived as damaging to your eyes can have some unexpected health benefits.
Wine is Sometimes Fine
Alcohol is not kind to the eyes. In the short term, excess drinking can have you seeing double and also experiencing increased rates of dry eye and uncomfortable muscle twitching. In the long term, prospects are even dimmer. Alcoholism has been linked to a raised risk of macular degeneration, cataracts, and optic neuropathy, sometimes called tobacco-alcohol amblyopia. All of the above are potential causes of blindness and are all excellent reasons to watch your intake.
But some very specific alcohols can work in your favor. We’re talking about wine – red wine to be specific. Red wine does tend to be decently high-alcohol and can absolutely contribute to the above conditions. But if you drink it in moderation, it also plays a beneficial role in the body. Red wine is rich in a chemical called resveratrol which is, among other things, a powerful antioxidant. As many serious eye disorders are thought to have a basis in damage caused by free radicals, upping your levels of antioxidants may help stave off later-life eye visual diseases.
Too Much of a Good Thing
Many vitamins play an important role in vision, but perhaps none more so than vitamin A. One of its forms, called retinal, is integral to normal, healthy eyesight. Leave it out of your diet too long and you’ll quickly begin to run into major visual problems – in fact, vitamin A deficiency is one of the leading threats to vision in the developing world. Night blindness in particular is a trademark symptom of vitamin A deficiency.
But don’t go overboard. Vitamin A toxicity can be just as bad as deficiency. Unlike other vitamins, Vitamin A is fat soluble and has a tendency to remain in the body for longer stretches of time. As a result, overzealous supplementation can cause a case of hypervitaminosis (fancy way of saying “excess vitamins”) A. Nausea, hair loss, and brittle bones are just a few of the symptoms of this overdose.
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Fats: It’s All About the Type
On a day-to-day basis, you probably know several reasons not to eat extraordinarily fatty foods. The big one is obviously obesity. Eat a diet heavy in saturated fats and processed foods, and you stand to gain weight. Overweight and obesity both have effects on vision and up the odds of contracting several different visual diseases. Cataracts, for example, are more pronounced in overweight individuals. The risk of diabetes also increases with excess weight, bringing with it the threat of diabetic retinopathy, a dangerous condition that can eventually lead to blindness.
However, certain fats aren’t just benign as far as vision goes, they’re crucial. DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid has been found to play an important role in vision. At the moment, that role isn’t entirely understood, though it has been shown that depriving an organism of DHA can lead to visual impairment.
To get your own fill of omega-3s try to supplement your diet with some extra fish. Salmon and other cold-water loving species are those most likely to have large amounts of omega-3s. Some nuts and grains also contain these helpful fats.
A Shiny Compromise
As we head into summer, sunlight stands to be one of the chief environmental hazards to your eyesight. Too much sun can be uncomfortable and can give you a nasty case of itchy, irritated, and sunburnt eyes. And that’s just in the short term – over the years, excess UV light can put you at risk for various eye cancers, and boost your odds of developing cataracts.
But the sun also plays an important role in the development of younger eyes. Children actually rely on UV light to develop normally. Consistent exposure to natural light is one of the keys in ensuring that eyes mature properly. Without it, myopia (nearsightedness) becomes more and more likely. Getting kids outdoors is a crucial step in right direction for their long-term visual well-being; but strike a balance, and be sure to grab them some sunglasses for particularly bright outings.
Be Careful Out There
Choosing to follow an active lifestyle is one of the best decisions you can make for your eyes. High levels of activity keep your body in better working order. For example, active individuals generally have lower blood pressure and are less at risk of hypertensive retinopathy, which occurs when chronically high blood pressure damages sensitive parts of your eyes. Not only that, but you’ll be spending some extra time away from your digital devices which, as you’ve likely heard already, aren’t exactly kind to the eyes.
But protect yourself while you’re out there, and we mean that in a very physical sense. Even if your eyes don’t receive a direct body blow, they can still feel the effects of one. Visual disturbances are extremely common for football and rugby players, who often sustain serious head trauma while playing their chosen sport. Post trauma vision syndrome includes some nasty symptoms like double vision and intermittent blurring. Do you and your eyes a favor – wear a helmet, and watch yourself while you play.