Keep an eye on your vision health
February 1, 2023 | View PDF
If you wear glasses (or contacts) try to minimize their use to times when you are reading, driving or doing other precision work. But if you're just lounging around at home and can bathe, cook, garden, play a game, etc. without your glasses - do it. The more dependent you become on your glasses/contacts, the weaker your eyes become. Limiting your eyewear usage gives your eyes a chance to practice focusing unaided, thus strengthening them, and allowing for fewer prescription changes in the long run.
For all you computer users who want to prevent vision loss, use a screen saver. These are available in most office supply stores, or online. Screen savers not only reduce glare bouncing off the screen, which means less eye strain, but also reduce the amount of radiation coming right at you from the computer monitor, which is one of the causes of cataract formation.
Also, never, ever watch or try to focus on computer text that is rapidly scrolling for more than a second or two. That's very hard on the eyes. Focus on something off to the side momentarily, the same way you do when driving at night and an approaching driver forgets to dim their brights. Find some amber-tinted glasses to use when online. These help offset the harmful blue light emitted by most screens. Amber tint can be ordered for a small extra fee to corrective eyewear or you can get amber-tinted readers in many stores to keep next to your computer.
Prioritize good lighting for sustained reading, writing or other close work.
If possible, use full-spectrum light bulbs at your desk, with high wattage, at least 75, and try to have the light shine straight down onto what you're working on. If at a desk, arrange to tilt the work up to save your neck and shoulder muscles, then use a gooseneck lamp that shines light perpendicular to the project.
Getting enough vitamin A
Remember being told that carrots are good for your eyes? What makes carrots orange is a pigment called beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. The scientific name for vitamin A is retinol because it has a specific function in the retina of the eye. Simply stated, vitamin A allows the rods and cones in the retina to adjust to light changes, produce visual excitation and send images to the visual centers of the brain. This mechanism was elucidated in 1950 and the work won a Nobel Prize.
An early sign of vitamin A deficiency is night blindness. Carrots are indeed an excellent source of vitamin A, but so are all darkly colored vegetables. Dark green vegetables have lots of beta-carotene but the green of the chlorophyll overwhelms the yellow and orange tones. The highest food sources of vitamin A, in descending order, are liver, carrots, sweet potato, spinach, apricots, winter squash, cantaloupe, broccoli, crab and peaches. I consider a therapeutic dose, for those with compromised vision, to be 150,000 IUs daily. Women who could become pregnant should not take higher than this dose.
Anti-oxidants and vision
Another group of nutrients that have received much attention recently are the so-called anti-oxidants. This can be a confusing term because of course oxygen is critical to life, so how can anti-oxidants be helpful? It's about balance and moderation. Oxygen is critical to good health, and healthy eyes, but in moderation.
Most of the damage that creates aging is in fact done by oxygen. This process is called oxidation and is very similar to how oxygen rusts iron. We are exposed to free radical damage in many ways, including eating fried foods (fats are especially susceptible to free radical damage heated above 170 degrees), using spray can devices (whipped cream, hair spray), breathing automobile exhaust, to name a few.
Nutrients which have been shown to be most protective against free radical damage, besides vitamin A, are vitamin C (take at least 1 gram daily, preferably in buffered, powdered form), vitamin E (400 IUs daily), and the trace minerals zinc (50 mg daily) and selenium (200 mcg daily). Specific nutrients for eye health (which should be included in a good eye "multi") are bilberry (200 mg), lutein (5-10 mg), the algal-based zeaxanthin and astaxanthin (2 mg each) and the amino acid/anti-oxidant taurine (up to 2 grams). Taurine helps prevent age-related macular degeneration and also helps the retina to eliminate waste, which reduces risk of glaucoma and cataracts.
Many health food stores and natural pharmacies have "anti-oxidant" formulations containing all these nutrients. My favorite natural oil for dry eyes is castor oil. A few drops into each eye can give good lubrication for about four hours. Any castor oil sold for medicine will work well. Not industrial castor oil.
Now for some eye exercises. Much of the work we do involving our eyes requires us to focus approximately 14 inches away from our face. This is a much closer range than the eyes were designed to accommodate.
In order to see in focus, both eyes need to be directed at the object of our attention - the focal point. With a focal point only 14 inches away, the muscles that are called into play most vigorously are at the inner edges of the eyeball. Over the course of a lifetime these inner eyeball muscles are constantly tightening up, becoming chronically contracted, while the outer eyeball muscles are forced to stretch, and eventually become lax. This imbalance in muscle tension around the eyeball can cause headaches, nearsightedness (myopia) and reduced acuity.
The best remedy for this problem is to consciously relax the inner muscles and strengthen the outer eyeball muscles. How? One way is to periodically focus on objects that are in the distance. An easy exercise throughout the day, especially if you're working at a computer, is to do "near-far jumps." Focus on the end of a pencil held in front of your face, then "jump" your focus to a tree or mountain top you can see way out there. Linger on the distant object for three seconds then back to the pencil for a few seconds and back out the window. You may actually feel your inner eyeball muscles loosening.
Like any other muscle, it's a good idea to warm up your eyes before using them. Consider quickly rubbing your palms together, building up some heat, then placing the palms gently over the eyes with the fingers pointing up toward the hairline and the thumbs over the temples, and hold them there until the heat penetrates in through the eyelids. Do this several times at the beginning of a morning at the computer. You can also press quite firmly all around the bony orbit to stimulate circulation to the eyes and the muscles that move them.
Try also resting your chin in your hands and using the middle fingers to firmly stroke along the eyebrows from inner to outer aspect several times in a row. Another eye strengthening exercise which just takes seconds is to close the eyes, then move them in a figure-eight pattern, first one way six to eight times, then the other way. Go slowly enough to explore the full range of movement.
Emily Kane is a naturopathic doctor based in Juneau. Contact her online at http://www.dremilykane.com.