Keen, old eyes

There are ways to sharpen ageing eyes

WORLD Sight Day (WSD) is an international day of awareness, held annually on the second Thursday of October to focus attention on the global issue of avoidable blindness and visual impairment. This year, it will be celebrated on the October 8, 2009.

The gift of sight is most precious. Vision impairment is one of the most feared disabilities. We live in a world that is filled with visual stimuli: traffic lights, billboards, television, etc. Imagine not being able to see? For most, life would lose most of its meaning.

As we grow older, our vision is not as sharp; prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays and harmful blue light throughout our lives may cause excessive free radical damage to the eyes and lead to symptoms such as difficulty in reading, poor night-time vision, and eye fatigue due to overstraining. These are the signs and symptoms of presbyopia, a natural, often annoying part of ageing which usually becomes noticeable in the early to mid-40s and continues to worsen until around age 60.

You may become aware of presbyopia when you start holding books and newspapers at arm’s length so as to read them. If you’re nearsighted, you might temporarily manage presbyopia by reading without your glasses.

Dr Leonard Yip, a consultant ophthalmologist at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, says: “Loss of vision can be prevented with early detection”. He adds “If you are between 40 and 64 years old, you should consider an eye examination by an ophthalmologist every two to four years.” If you are above 65 years old, you should have one every one to two years.

Dr Garry Kappel, a holistic and alternative optometrist based in Portland, Oregon, writes: “I believe environmental factors – not just ageing – are the primary influence on accelerated occurrence of disease and mutation of cells.” In 30 years, he has seen a significant increase in the onset of eye disorders such as dry eye, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts. “One of the frightening facts is that these conditions are affecting younger and younger people.”

Age-related macular degeneration and cataracts together cause most of the blindness experienced by adults. Age-related vision loss is not inevitable. Both age-related macular degeneration and cataracts are a direct result of the damaging effects of light exposure on delicate structures in the eyes.

Studies have shown that ultraviolet radiation can cause permanent damage to the eye’s surface and its internal structures – the lens and the retina. Other risk factors include living in countries near the equator, such as Malaysia.

Many of us believe that vision loss is part and parcel of ageing, but studies suggest that nutritional supplementation with two plant pigments called carotenoids, namely, Lutein and Zeaxanthin, may help strengthen and protect the eyes against the devastating effects of both age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.

Of the more than 600 plant pigments called carotenoids found in nature, only two antioxidant carotenoids, Zeaxanthin and Lutein, selectively accumulates in the retina, macula and lens.

Plants synthesise Lutein and Zeaxanthin to harvest light energy and protect against excessive light. It now appears that humans also utilise these pigments to protect the eye from excessive interaction with the damaging effects of light. This function of Lutein and Zeaxanthin can be likened to “nature’s sunglasses” for the eyes.

The eye is selective and preferentially places dietary Zeaxanthin in the very centre of the macula, a small area located in the centre of the eye’s retina, which is responsible for sharp vision throughout life while Lutein dominates at the outer edges. Hence, it is the area with the greatest need for protection.

Concentrated in the lenses and retina, these two carotenoids fulfil two essential functions:

1. Shields the eyes from damaging ultraviolet (UV) light

   Acting as a filter to shield against harmful blue light and as antioxidants, both Lutein and Zeaxanthin help to reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD)    and cataract, the leading causes of blindness in the world.

2. Acts as antioxidants to protect the lenses, retina, and macula against free radical damage due to exposure to sunrays, computer screens, and other harmful forms of     light

   Both Lutein and Zeaxanthin absorb the very high-energy and most damaging portions of the light spectrum (ultraviolet blue). The absorption of the high-energy light    spectrum is critical for the protection of the lens, retina, and macula portions of the eye. High-energy blue light also generates “free radicals” that cause damage to the     tissues of the eye.

   As we grow older, the concentration of Lutein and Zeaxanthin in the eyes declines. Unfortunately, the body cannot manufacture Lutein and Zeaxanthin. Hence, we need    to obtain them from our diet. Some evidence suggests it may be more difficult to obtain higher levels of Zeaxanthin from food as compared to Lutein, indicating that    supplementation is desirable.

   Daily supplementation of Lutein and Zeaxanthin has been found to increase the concentration of Lutein and Zeaxanthin in the lens, retina, and macula, leading to    healthier eyesight and sharper vision. In fact, both help provide notable improvements in the eye structure and function, especially in people with age-related macular    degeneration and cataracts.

   Based on a recent eye study, a supplementation containing 10mg a day of Lutein and Zeaxanthin together produce the best concentrations of these two carotenoids    throughout the retina.

   Two things to ensure when buying a Lutein and Zeaxanthin supplement:

1. Standardised marigold flower (Tagates erecta) containing a minimum 15% Lutein esters and 40% Zeaxanthin is used to ensure every capsule contains the exact amount     of active ingredients as stated on the label.

   Not all herbal eye products are created equal even if they are using marigold flower extract. Many of these extracts yield different levels of active ingredients depending    on many factors such as:

  • time of the year harvested
  • plant part used
  • soil conditions (may be depleted in certain nutrients)
  • species used
  • geographical location where herb is grown

2. Concentrated Lutein and Zeaxanthin is used

   Ensure the eye supplement contains at least 6mg but preferably 10mg of standardised Lutein. Many Lutein and Zeaxanthin supplements contain only very small     amounts of Zeaxanthin – in the micrograms (mcg) whereas studies have found that Zeaxanthin is beneficial only when their amounts are much higher, e.g. at least 5mg     daily.

   For convenience of dosing, it would make good sense to look for a 2-in-1 eye health formula with concentrated Lutein and Zeaxanthin to protect eyes from free radical    damage, sharpen vision and promoted healthier eyes.