Medical herbalist Nicola Parker explains how to protect your eyes and support your vision
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Why you should keep an eye on colourful fruit and veg
Getting older is something I’m regularly advised against. Too many things we used to take for granted start to become bothersome during our old age. In my experience, one of the more worrying problems is when people start to notice their sight failing.
Now unfortunately, I don’t have a magic elixir that will prevent me or you from getting older. If I did, I’d have retired long ago and be writing to you from beside my fountain of youth, sipping cocktails and petting my unicorn. Instead, back in the real world, I work with a wonderful team of people who are well versed in the ways that we can support our bodies in an attempt to slow the inevitable changes that eventually come with age.
For today, I’d like to focus on sight and how you can make small changes to your everyday life to protect your eyes and support your vision.
Macular degeneration is a common cause of vision loss and it is thought that 1 in every 10 people over 65 suffer from it to some degree. For some, the degeneration is a slow process and will not affect vision for years to come, but in others the disease may progress much faster, leading to vision loss in the affected eye or eyes.
The macular of the eye is a pigmented section of the retina that protects the underlying structures from damage. It acts like a shield, protecting our eyes from blue light energy, a type of light that we are exposed to everyday. As we get older the macular thins and its ability to protect our vision becomes weaker as it thins. The pigment in the macular makes it yellow in colour, the same colours as the nutrients that protect it. This gives us a clue as to which foods are rich in these nutrients, helping us make eye protecting choices during our regular trips to the green grocer.
Have you heard the saying that carrots help you see in the dark? It’s the story I was fed as a child to encourage me to eat my veg, but unlike many old wives tales, there is some truth to this.
The macular is made up of carotenoids. The key carotenoids are lutein which is yellow and zeaxanthin which is the same pink pigment that gives salmon and lobsters their colour. Eating foods rich in these carotenoids will help to provide the thinning macular with the nutrients it needs to rebuild and as you’ve probably guessed, carrots are one of them. In fact, any brightly coloured vegetable is a good choice when looking for carotenoids, especially dark green leafy veg. Have you ever watched it turn yellow as it ages in your fridge? That yellow colour is the lutein showing through.
Lutein can be swallowed as a tablet and most opticians will recommend one if you are showing signs of macular degeneration. We stock one called Lutein Eye Complex that contains other important carotenoids including zeaxanthin to help supply the body with these important nutrients. We do stock a plain lutien as most herbal medicine shops will, but the Lutein Eye Complex is by far my favourite due to the additional ingredients necessary for eye health.
One of these is bilberry. All those dark coloured berries will be rich in protective nutrients and this is the reason that bilberries became know as a ‘superfood’. Personally I hold that all natural foods have an element of ‘super’ to them, but when it comes to eye health bilberry really stands out. Bilberry protects the blood vessels that supply the eye. These tiny blood vessels act as supply roads for all the nutrients that feed the eye and they are commonly damaged in conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes – conditions that also become more common as we age.
If you are worried about your sight, then please visit your optician as they will be able to determine the cause of any vision problems, but don’t think that assistance has to stop with your glasses prescription. Eat coloured veg, wear sunglasses that protect you from UV light and consider a supplement like Lutein Eye Complex, to ensure you are feeding your eyes with all the nutrients they need.