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Quinn on Nutrition: Eyes have it

December 5, 2016


His words brought me an instant sense of relief.

"Your eyes look great. See you in a year." 

Ever since a wayward tree branch lacerated my cornea more than a decade ago, I pay close attention to the words of my ophthalmologist—the good doctor who saved my eyesight.

"Are you still taking vitamins?" he said as he concluded his exam.

Yes, I nod.

"Keep doing it."

Well, OK, and I assume he trusts me to know what to do. 

One nutrient mixture many vision experts recommend is based on results from two major studies: the Age-Related Eye Disease Study or AREDS and a second study, AREDS2. These trials produced a formula of vitamins and minerals that helped prevent age-related macular degeneration or AMD — the most common cause of blindness in people over the age of 50, according to the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health. 

Supplements with the following ingredients are often referred to as "AREDS" or "AREDS2" formulations: 

—500 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C

—400 international units of vitamin E

—25 to 80 milligrams (mg) zinc as zinc oxide

—2 mg copper as cupric oxide

—15 mg beta-carotene, OR 10 mg lutein and 2 mg zeaxanthin

Besides the ounce of prevention in this dose of nutrients, I can also make sure I continue to exercise regularly, eat a healthful diet with a variety of foods that include green leafy vegetables and fish … and be glad I don’t smoke. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) occurs less often in people who follow these lifestyle habits.

While I continue to avoid tree branches, I should also avoid an overload of alcohol, say experts from the National Eye Institute. Too much vino or other spirits can contribute to the development of cataracts — clouding of the lens of the eye that affects vision.

People with diabetes need to take special care to protect their vision, say eye specialists. High blood sugars increase one’s risk for glaucoma — a disease that damages the optic nerve and can cause blindness. People with diabetes are also more likely to develop retinopathy which affects the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. If the retina is damaged, life — quite literally — gets out of focus in a hurry.

Recent studies from Oregon Health and Science University have shown that vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) can protect the retina from the daily wear and tear that can lead to vision problems. This important antioxidant nutrient is found in food such as oranges, strawberries, kiwi, bell peppers and kale. 

Do I have to take a supplement to get all the good nutrients that nourish my eyes? Not if I choose my diet carefully. A variety of fruits and vegetables every day (including green leafies) plus whole grains, nuts and beans, some seafood and lean meat or poultry and I’m good. And for those days I don’t eat so well … my daily multivitamin/mineral supplement gets me over the top. 

Thanks, doc. 

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McClatchy Tribune Information Services