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Editorial

Around Our Town...To Your Health


01/01/2005 - I only have eyes for you!

by Patti Kantor

Now that you have shared a few milestone anniversaries with the love of your life, are you still able to focus clearly on your relationship? Meaning can you see your partner as well as when you first met or does your vision seem to be diminishing?

Cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) are the two leading causes of blindness and visual impairment for millions of aging Americans, with 40 being the age when vision changes start to occur. In fact, cataracts and age-related macular degeneration are both key quality of life issues as the aging process forges ahead.

More than 12 million Americans suffer from cataracts while approximately 10 million Americans suffer from early signs of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Almost a half million people have significant visual loss from late-stage AMD.

Cataract extractions are the most common surgical procedure performed in the United States, according to the American Optometry Association (AOA), accounting for more than two million procedures a year. It has been estimated that if the progression of cataracts could be delayed by 10 years, the number of cataract extraction surgeries per year would be reduced by 45 percent.

FOCUS ON PREVENTION

Both the severity and irreversibility of cataracts and AMD have generated interest in ways to either prevent or delay their progression. Nutrition is one promising means of protecting the eyes from these diseases. In fact, according to the AOA, many optometrists are now expanding their traditional role to include nutrition.

Promising studies have suggested that six nutrients, all antioxidants, are associated with maintaining eye health:

Lutein

Zeaxanthin

Beta-carotene

Vitamin C

Vitamin E

Zinc

ANTIOXIDANTS AND CATARACTS RESEARCH

Some recent studies, compiled by the American Optometry Association, compared dietary and supplemental intake of antioxidant vitamins with development of cataracts. Many of these studies have shown that antioxidant vitamins may decrease the development or progression of this disease. Following are some of the results:

The Nutrition and Vision Project found that higher intakes of vitamin C led to a reduced risk for cortical and nuclear cataracts. Results also showed that people who used vitamin C and E supplements for more than 10 years had decreased progression of nuclear cataracts.

A recent analysis of results from a national dietary study (Second National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) found that higher levels of vitamin C in the diet were associated with lower risk of cataracts.

In the Nurses' Health Study, the need for cataract surgery was lower among women who used vitamin C supplements for 10 years or longer.

The Roche European American Cataract Trial found that an antioxidant supplement with vitamins C and E and beta-carotene lead to a small decrease in the progression of cataracts in less than three years.

In the Longitudinal Study of Cataract, vitamin E supplement use for at least a year was associated with a reduced risk of nuclear cataracts becoming more severe.

The five year follow-up to the Beaver Dam Eye Study showed a reduced risk for nuclear and cortical cataracts among people using multivitamins or any supplement containing vitamins C and E.

ANTIOXIDANTS AND AMD RESEARCH

The Age-Related Eye Disease Study from the National Eye Institute (NEI) is the first large clinical trial to test the effect of a high dose antioxidant vitamin combination plus zinc on preventing or delaying the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and its associated vision loss. The antioxidant vitamins and zinc supplement reduced the risk of developing advanced AMD by about 25 percent in the study of subjects who were at high risk for developing the advanced stage of this disease. In the same high-risk group, the supplements also reduced vision loss by 19 percent. The doses tested were:

500 milligrams (mg) vitamin C

400 IU vitamin E

15 mg beta-carotene

80 mg zinc

2 mg copper (to prevent anemia from high dose zinc)

According to researchers, this supplement combination is the first effective treatment to slow the progression of AMD. The NEI concluded that persons older than 55, with signs of intermediate to late vision loss due to AMD, should consider taking a supplement such as that used in this trial. Effective treatment can delay progression to advanced AMD in about 300,000 people who are at high risk.

CONSIDER SUPPLEMENTS

Given the positive association between nutrition and cataracts and AMD, it seems prudent for people to increase the amount of certain antioxidants in the diet, says the American Optometry Association. Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables each day as currently recommended by the National Cancer Institute and U.S. Department of Agriculture can provide more than 100 mg vitamin C - that is if they are wise choices of fruits and vegetables. Eating two servings of nuts and seeds can provide 8-14 mg vitamin E (11.9-20.8 IU).

However, the majority of people in the United States are not eating five servings of fruits and vegetables and good food sources of vitamin E each day. In the studies referenced here, levels associated with a benefit were considerably higher than the current average intake. If you find it difficult to increase the level of these antioxidants in your diet, multivitamin/mineral and eye health supplements containing these antioxidants are available.

OTHER HELPFUL HINTS

Although it is best to consult information relative to each particular eye problem for condition-specific suggestions, there are some overall steps people can take to enhance eye health, in addition to nutrition. They are:

Protect the eyes from overexposure to sunlight and wind to help keep eyes looking and feeling their best.

Drink plenty of water to keep the eyes hydrated.

Avoid tobacco smoke and other irritants.

Avoid eye fatigue and strain, get plenty of rest and take frequent breaks when reading or working at the computer

Column courtesy of Herbalremedies.com

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