Weatherford Democrat

January 20, 2013

Eating for your eyes


Weatherford Democrat

— By KATHY SMITH

About 16 million people in the United States over the age of 45 have some vision loss. Regular vision checkups are important. The most debilitating eye diseases are glaucoma, age-related macular (AMD) degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, retinal detachment and refractive errors.

Macular degeneration is the deterioration of the central region of the retina called the macula. The macula is made up of lutein and zeaxanthin. These nutrients are carotenoids. A healthy macula is about the size of this letter “O,” and is necessary for central vision. In age related macular degeneration, the central vision becomes blurry.

Treatments are limited and can sometimes be ineffective. Getting an early diagnosis is important.

Knowing what the risk factors are especially important. These factors include age, smoking, sunlight exposure, skin color, blue eyes, women and genetics.

We cannot change our age, genetic inheritance or gender, but we can exercise. A study in Wisconsin has found a relationship between AMD and walking. Those who have AMD and are sedentary have worsened AMD and those who walk regularly seem to have stopped progression of their AMD and have been able to retain their vision.

Diets rich in carotenoids, such as lutein and zeaxanthin, may help prevent or delay AMD progression. Lutein and zeaxanthin are not made by the body. Carotenoids provide color in nature, foods, blood and the eyes. There are four commonly consumed carotenoids: beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin.

Good sources of zeaxanthin include foods that are naturally rich in orange or yellow color. These include green, leafy vegetables that contain orange yellow pigments, but the green covers up. Corn, orange bell peppers, kale, collard and spinach greens are rich in zeaxanthin. Also mangos, persimmons and oranges are good.

Lutein has been associated with decreased glare sensitivity in people with AMD. The darkest green, leafy vegetables contain the most lutein and are concentrated when chopped and cooked.

Corn is also a good source of lutein, but lutein in eggs has been shown to increase the lutein level in blood more, so eggs are thought to be a richer source.

The best sources of lutein are egg yolks, kale, dark green, leafy salad greens, spinach – especially chopped and cooked but raw is great as well – corn and peas.

Omega 3 fats, found in walnuts, certain fish and flax, also may be important for eye health. Omega 3 fatty acids will decrease person’s risk of progression in advanced AMD, which often leads to vision loss.

Kathy Smith is a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent for Parker County. Contact her at (817) 598-6168 or kl-smith@tamu.edu.