The eyes have it

By Lani Lopez

Eyes are a big part of wellbeing. Lifelong good eyesight is a key contributor to enjoyment and quality of life.

As with most of our body, eyes benefit from nutrition and exercise so let's look first at foods. Naturopaths like myself have long prescribed food and eye exercises for recovery and prevention. In more recent times we have been joined in this by allopathic clinical practice.

Visible nutrients
A good example is leading American professor of optometry Leo Semes, who wrote "You are what you eat; it's trite but it's true. It has been shown that certain habits like eating a high-fat diet are associated with, but not causative, in AMD (Age Related Macular Degeneration)."

And his top recommendation? Carrots. Yes, your nan was right after all! Professor Semes explains their value, saying: "Carrots are high in beta-carotene. Lack of vitamin-A, a cousin of beta-carotene, is implicated in poor darkness adaptation."

I've compiled a list of specific nutrients beneficial to eye-health (see sidebar), and the foods to add into your long-term eating plan. If you are at a time of high stress, illness (or for women in pregnancy and breast-feeding) these are foods to double up on as your nutritional needs will be increased.

Most eye-problems are degenerative and only come on with age. But they are not inevitable and prevention is the best treatment and therapy we have. In fact, for the most common condition, AMD, prevention is the only therapy. So get started today and see your way to a healthier future.

Easy on the eye
Eating your way to health is about as easy as wellbeing gets and exercising your eyes is even easier. So much of our time is spent looking at screens; TVs, computers, mobile phones and e-readers. We need to counter this.

Just a couple of simple exercises every day will do. My two favourites are scanning and near-far focus, both of which can be easily done anywhere anytime so make a habit of them. Near-far focus:This relaxes your eyes from the strain of extended short focus. Hold your thumb 15cm from your face at eye level and focus on it. Hold focus for one relaxing breath. Focus on an object about 4-5 metres away. Take another breath while focusing. Repeat 10 to 15 times. Scanning - This builds eye flexibility and fluid movement. For two minutes, maintain slow, relaxed breathing, keeping your head still. Scan around the edges of your vision. Identify and rest a moment on objects you see.

Eating for your eyes

1) Eat more

Healthy eyes need; zinc, selenium, carotenoids, vitamin A, C, D, E.
Good sources for these are:
Almonds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, hazelnuts and Brazil nuts
Beef, turkey (dark meat), chicken liver; eggs, butter, milk, Noodles, brown rice
Peppers, kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, beans, lettuce, peas, corn, tomatoes, broccoli, Strawberries, melon, grapefruit, peaches, papaya, tangerines and oranges
Seafood; sardines, mackerel, shrimp, crab, salmon
Fortified juices - and good news for tomato sauce lovers, eat plenty

2) Let the sunshine in

The best source of vitamin D is exposure to sunlight which stimulates production of vitamin D. Get a few minutes exposure to sunlight each day.

Eye health can give an indication of other health conditions and challenges

Bloody eye: The eye's transparent outer layer, called the conjunctiva, is nourished by numerous tiny blood vessels. If these burst, blood may pool on the white of the eye which can be a sign of eye trauma or even high blood pressure.
Bulging eyes: As tissue surrounding the eye swells eyes appear more prominent than usual, may be evidence of thyroid disease.
Changed eye colours: May be from bleeding, a foreign matter in the eye or glaucoma and is a warning of inflammation or neurofibromatosis.
Pupil abnormalities: Pupils are usually the same size, symmetrical, and react equally to light. Changes to this may indicate risk of stroke, brain or optic nerve tumor, brain aneurysm or Multiple Sclerosis.
Yellow eye whites: Cirrhosis of the liver, sun damage, fatty diets and hepatitis, can turn the scleras yellow (scleral icterus).

Lani Lopez Adv. Dip Nat, BHSc. is a naturopath clinical nutritionist and founder of lanilopez.com. Talk nutrition and winter wellbeing with Lani at facebook.com/lanilopez.com

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