Nutrition Expert Editorial Team August 15, 2013

Preserving sight is vital for quality of life and there are several protective steps you can take to keep your vision as sharp as possible. But even if you exercise regularly, don't smoke, keep blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol levels in check and eat a healthy diet: ageing is inevitable.

Read on for five common age-related problems you need to know about, and the protective tactics that can help…

Cataracts

What are cataracts?

A cataract is an opacity in the normally crystal-clear eye lens. They are caused by changes in lens proteins, similar to those which turn cooked egg-white from clear to cloudy. This cloudiness scatters light, causing blurring, sensitivity to sun glare and changes in colour perception.

Most cataracts are a natural part of the ageing process but can be made worse by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light.

How can I protect against cataracts?

Make sure you get enough B vitamins. Vitamin B2 helps maintain levels of an important antioxidant, ‘glutathione’, which may help stop cataracts forming. Food sources include yeast extract, whole grains, eggs, dairy products, green leafy vegetables, beans and fortified cereals.

Eat enough antioxidants - especially the vitamin C, vitamin E and lutein. These vitamins can be found in fruit such as berries, and vegetables, such as carrots and spinach.

Wear sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat in the sun to limit exposure to UV damage.

Glaucoma

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is the most common eye disorder in people over 60, and is responsible for 15 per cent of cases of blindness in the UK. It is caused when excessive pressure compresses the small blood vessels that nourish the optic nerve, and can lead to loss of vision or even blindness. Symptoms such as loss of peripheral vision often go unnoticed, but seek urgent advice if you notice any of the following visual disturbances:

• Blurring

• Halos around lights

• Eye pain

• Reddening

How can I protect against glaucoma?

Lifestyle changes that lower blood pressure, such as losing excess weight or maintaining a healthy weight, and following a low-salt and low G-I diet may also lower eye pressure.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

What is AMD?

A painless, progressive disorder and one of the most common causes of visual loss in later life, AMD is associated with low levels of carotenoid pigments in the macula - the part of the retina responsible for fine vision. As the defect occurs in the centre of the visual field, AMD typically obliterates words when you try to read and blanks out a person’s face when you look straight at them.

How can I protect against age-related macular degeneration?

Make sure you eat plenty of dark green leaves, such as spinach and kale, as well as yellow-orange fruit and veg like pumpkin, mango and carrots.

Blepharitis

What is blepharitis?

Blepharitis occurs when the eyelids become inflamed. Symptoms of blepharitis include:

• Redness

• Soreness

• Itching

Blepharitis can be a recurring condition and tends to flare up during times of stress. Allergies may also be a factor.

How can I protect against blepharitis?

To identify a cosmetic trigger, stop using all cosmetic products and gradually re-introduce them, one at a time, to see if you can in-point which may be causing or making symptoms worse.

Using hypoallergenic toiletries – gentle shampoos, soaps and moisturisers such as those formulated for new-born babies, will help to relieve symptoms.

Top 3 eye friendly nutrients:

1. Antioxidants, such as vitamin C and E. These protect the eye against the damaging effects of light, which generates free radicals when it strikes the retina. Antioxidant supplements that may offer some protection, particularly bilberry extracts and pine bark extracts (Pycnogenol).

2. Lutein and zeaxanthin - US research shows that taking 10mg lutein may improve vision in some forms of AMD.

3. Omega 3 fish oils provide the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA which needed for optimum eye health.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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