Foods for Eye Health: How to Eat to Preserve Vision

foods for eye healthOh, the aging process! It comes with so many challenges in terms of health. Aches and pains are only a few of the issues. For Americans aged 40 years and older, eyesight can be jeopardized in a variety of ways. Common eyesight disorders related to aging include: age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, and glaucoma. Despite being unable to reverse the aging process, there is good news in that better nutrition can help our aging eyes. Since our diet is highly modifiable, adapting good nutrition strategies is pretty easy once you know what foods to eat for eye health.

Foods for eye health should include tons of green foods

green foods for eye health

Green foods are rich sources of plant chemicals called lutein and zeaxanthin. These plant chemicals actually protect plants from diseases. But, when we eat those same chemicals, we are also able to gain some protection as well. Lutein and zeaxanthin are anti-oxidants that filter harmful high-energy blue wavelengths of light. Common sources of blue light include sunlight, fluorescent light, and LED televisions. Blue light exposure also comes from our electronic toys-smart phones, computer monitors, and tablets.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are very unique in that they actually accumulate in the human retina. Our body cannot make these compounds, so we must eat them. There is mounting evidence that these antioxidants help protect against both macular degeneration and cataracts.

Key food sources for these plant chemicals are just about any green leafy vegetable. These green leafy vegetables are also recommended by the Glaucoma Research Foundation to reduce glaucoma risk. Topping the list are spinach and kale (recipe). But, if you are not a fan of those two vegetables, pick any green vegetable and you will be upping the odds of getting this protective nutrient into your body and then to your eyes. Egg yolk is a non-vegetarian source of both lutein and zeaxanthin.

On the topic of green foods

While you’re thinking about green foods, drink some green tea too. Green tea is an excellent source of compounds called catechins. In particular, it’s loaded with a specific catechin called EGCG. This catechin is showing promise in protecting from corneal ulcers, but needs more research. Catechins can also function as antioxidants. With glaucoma, oxidative stress is associated with damage to the optic nerve. Ingesting antioxidants to counter that oxidative stress would be helpful in preventing further injury.

Foods for eye health should include orange foods

Orange colored foods are a rich source of beta-carotene. Your body converts beta-carotene to the active form of vitamin A after it is eaten. Vitamin A helps prevent dry eyes and night blindness. Both beta carotene and vitamin A reduce eye infections.

Pretty much all orange colored foods are rich in beta-carotene. Think pumpkin (healthy pumpkin pie recipe), squash, sweet potatoes, yams, cantaloupe, carrots, apricots, and mangoes. There’s something for everyone’s taste! And, if you follow the guideline to “go green,” note that many green foods are actually orange underneath all that green chlorophyll. So going green is also going orange. You can also get vitamin A from milk, eggs, liver, and cod liver oil.

Get enough vitamin C

citrus fruit foods for eye healthVitamin C is a key dietary antioxidant for our eyes and seems to protect against both cataracts and macular degeneration. Some good news is vitamin C is in all fruits and vegetables. So, if you don’t like citrus foods, then you don’t need to eat them. By following the “go green” recommendation and also eating orange foods, you’ll easily meet your vitamin C requirements.

Get enough zinc rich foods for eye health

Zinc is a mineral that activates enzymes in the body and plays a key role in helping to produce the active form of vitamin A in our visual pigment. Zinc concentrates in the eye just like lutein and zeaxanthin. Poor night vision and cataracts are linked to zinc deficiency. As the body does not produce zinc, it must come from food or supplements.

The landmark Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) showed that people at high risk for age related macular degeneration could slow the progression of advanced disease by 25% and visual acuity loss by 19% by taking very large amounts of zinc (40-180 mg/day). These amounts are much higher than the recommended amount of 8-11 mg/day for women and men respectively. Your eye care specialist should prescribe the higher dosages only as part of a treatment plan. High dosages of zinc can upset the stomach and interefere with copper and iron absoption. Food sources of zinc include animal protein, shellfish, dairy products, and enriched cereal.

Get enough vitamin E

Vitamin E is an strong antioxidant that is a key player in reducing the risk for cataracts and macular degeneration. When the lens of the eye oxidize in response to the UV rays of sunlight, cataracts form. The role of vitamin E in the diet would be to counter that oxidation. Vitamin E in conjunction with zinc, vitamin C, and beta-carotene were found to lower risk of age related macular degeneration in the landmark AREDS study noted above. Research has not supported any significant benefit of vitamin E to date for glaucoma.

Fatty foods like oils, seeds, nuts, and wheat germ are good sources of vitamin E. However, high frying temperatures or extreme processing destroy vitamin E. Work around this problem by eating more unprocessed sources of oil and fat (salad oils, nuts, seeds) and you’ll be more likely to meet your vitamin E requirements.

Strong bones may mean healthy eyes

Osteoporosis linked to macular degenerationThere has been speculation that vitamin D status may be related to risk of macular degeneration. It appears that there are conflicting scientific opinions on the role, if any, vitamin D plays in protecting from macular degeneration. However, there does seem to be a strong association between osteoporosis in women and age related macular degeneration. As vitamin D is a key player for strong bones and prevention of osteoporosis, I guess the verdict is not in on this nutrient as it relates to eye health.

Osteoporosis prevention can include lifestyle and diet strategies such as:

  • getting adequate calcium
  • meeting vitamin D requirements
  • getting adequate vitamin C
  • eating adequate vitamin A (orange foods)
  • consuming vitamin K rich vegetables (green foods)
  • eating the correct amount of protein, not too much OR too little
  • limiting dietary sodium
  • limiting alcohol consumption
  • smoking avoidance
  • being physically active

Strengthen your gut health when thinking about foods for eye health

New evidence supports that our gut bacteria also play a role in preventing macular degeneration. Every day we hear about how important our gut health is to overall health, and here is yet another example. Gut health is always improved when the diet is nutrient dense and those bacteria in your gut are fed healthy prebiotics. Prebiotic rich foods are the fuel for your gut bacteria. Fruits and vegetables are a typically some of the best prebiotic foods you can feed those gut bacteria. By “going green” and adding orange foods to your diet you will be feeding your gut bacteria a healthy diet.

Decrease your sodium

decrease sodium or saltLastly, you’ve always heard you should watch your sodium. This is a good recommendation for not just blood pressure, but your eye health as well. Health care providers know that too much salt or sodium can increase blood pressure. This may lead to increased intraocular pressure in the eyes which can worsen glaucoma. Excessive sodium may also be a risk factor for cataract formation. Eat more fresh, unprocessed foods at home (vs. in a restaurant) to easily lower your sodium intake.

A few words about omega-3 fatty acids and fish oil

Research has not supported a clear preventative effect of these fats for cataracts, macular degeneration, or glaucoma. But, there was high hope that these fats could  improve a common condition called dry eye syndrome. The syndrome is so common, that one 2017 reference states that 25% of visits to eye care providers is for dry eye disease. Unfortunately, a 2018 NIH study did not support this line of thinking. So, while these fatty acids cannot currently be recommended for dry eye, they are important to overall health. In fact, most Americans have too low of an intake of these fatty acids, so sound nutrition strategies would suggest getting these fats into the diet regardless of the impact on your eyes. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish, flaxseed, chia seed, and walnuts.

A word on eye supplements

Although food is your best source of lutein and zeaxanthin, supplements are widely available. The American Optometric Association suggests a supplement with 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin. While there is no recommended intake for lutein and zeaxanthin, a supplement could be a good safeguard for those that aren’t consistently eating a lot of fruits and vegetables and/or are at risk for eye disease. Take supplements with a little bit of dietary fat to increase absorption.

Key points on nutrition for aging eyes

nutrition for aging eyesYou can eat better today, for healthier vision in the future. Adequate nutrition for aging eyes includes plenty of green food and even green tea. Add plenty of orange foods, which are secretly green as well, and you are off to a good start. All those green and orange foods will also give you plenty of vitamin C. Make sure you are eating enough zinc by eating some good quality protein from meat, poultry, or dairy foods. Keep your food sources of vitamin E unprocessed and watch your sodium consumption. Make sure you strengthen your gut bacteria with plenty of fiber rich fruits and vegetables of all colors. And, remember that your bone health may be tied to your visual future. Eat right and stay active to keep your bones strong so you have a “clearer” future.

Please share this post if you found it enlightening. And, please share your comments.

 

 

CoQ10: Do You Need This Supplement?

coQ10

I’ve never been a big pill pusher in my practice. I believe the best source of nutrients is food, and supplements are meant to supplement our food intake. Decades ago I attended a continuing education seminar on supplements. I was struck by the presenter’s comments on CoQ10 (CoenzymeQ10). She cited lots of studies on how various clinical populations with various medical problems had low blood CoQ10 levels. Then, she said we all need to be taking it because we make less as we age. Seemed to make a lot of sense if you look at it that way since we are not getting any younger!

What is CoQ10?

Coenzyme Q10 is also known as ubiquinone. It’s a naturally occurring anti-oxidant whose primary function is cellular energy production. Our bodies do produce it, but as noted above we make less as we age. Our diets can only provide small amounts of this nutrient. Food sources are primarily chicken, beef, and some whole grains.

Who might benefit from CoQ10?

There are a variety of medical issues that might benefit from CoQ10. While some conditions that have thought to benefit from CoQ10 supplementation are disputed of late,  the following conditions are currently thought to improve with a supplement. As is always the case, it is necessary to discuss with your health care team when deciding to add supplements to your diet in therapeutic ranges. Supplements can always interact with certain medications, so your health care team and you need to be communicating on this topic!

Those with the following medical concerns might benefit:

  • Heart disease. Studies have shown that taking 100 mg of CoQ10 on a daily basis improved how the heart pumps blood. Other studies have shown that those who took a daily total dose of 300 mg of CoQ10 in addition to their prescribed cardiac medication reduced cardiac events by 50%. Multiple studies have also indicated that this supplement improved muscle symptoms associated with cholesterol lowering statin medications.
  • Migraines. Studies have supported the use of CoQ10 for headache pain. 300 mg taken for three months showed a decrease in migraine frequency in a small study. There was also a reduction in blood levels of lactate and nitric oxide, both of which are elevated in migraine sufferers.
  • Fibromyalgia. One small study found that 100 mg of CoQ10 taken three times per day for 40 days significantly improved clinical symptoms, including tender points and sleep quality.
  • Wrinkles. We are all going to get them, so it is interesting to note that one preliminary study found that middle-aged women taking 150 mg of CoQ10 three times per day for 3 months achieved a significant reduction in wrinkles around the lips, eyes, and nose. There was no reduction in wrinkles on the forehead.

Taking smaller 100 mg doses with a small amount of dietary fat will increase the absorption of CoQ10.

Do you take this supplement? Do you have any questions or comments about this supplement not covered in this blog?

 

 

 

 

Strong Bones: 5 Novel Foods for Osteoporosis Prevention

Osteoporosis: Silent Stalker

Osteoporosis is a public health problem that affects about 54 million people. It’s a condition where the bones become thin and then weaken. It can occur anywhere in the skeletal system and it’s always silent in terms of symptoms. When a fracture occurs, it is often life altering because it is difficult to repair the extensive fracture. I can still remember my sharp and nimble 85 year old grandfather stumbling on a hose and breaking his hip. He never came out of the surgery. Fortunately, a first line of defense is selecting foods for osteoporosis prevention. A diet with foods providing nutrients for bone strength starting early in life is key.
osteoporosis

Foods and Nutrients for Osteoporosis Prevention

Choosing the right foods for osteoporosis prevention will provide the best nutrients for bone strength. Most people know the importance of enough calcium and vitamin D for strong bones. Furthermore, we know diets rich in bone building nutrients early in life allow for stronger bones later in life. We all start losing bone strength as we age. Think of your skeletal system as a calcium bank that you start withdrawing from around 40 years of age. For that reason, the more strength in your bones earlier in life, the better off you will be when old.

Top important nutrients for bone health are calcium and vitamin D along with vitamin K, C, and A. Some recent studies have pointed out some novel foods that could help prevent osteoporosis.

Dried Plums (aka prunes)

According to researchers, prunes have a unique nutrient and dietary profile that seem to have a beneficial effect. A variety of phenolic compounds in this fruit may be the factor that helps prevent bone loss. As little as 6 prunes a day might be therapeutic.

Olives

It seems consumption of olives as well as olive oil improves bone health. The beneficial effect of olives and olive oil may be attributed to their ability to reduce inflammation.  Human studies have revealed that daily consumption of olive oil could prevent the decline in bone density and improve bone turnover markers.

Fish

The Framingham Osteoporosis Study has shown that people who eat at least 3 weekly servings of fish gained hip bone mass density over 4 years compared to people with low to moderate fish consumption. The correlation is due to a number of dietary factors. Fish is high in protein and also omega 3 fatty acids, which are known to decrease inflammation.

Beer 

Researchers have long known that silicon may contribute to bone mineralization. Silicon is available from drinking water and some foods. But, the silicon content of beer is relatively high. Researchers have noted that dietary silicon intake in men and women aged 30-87 years of age was correlated with a higher bone mineral density.

Wine 

In particular, the Framingham Osteoporosis study identified red wine as particularly beneficial to bone in women. This led to the thinking that perhaps the resveratrol found in wine was the protective factor. Resveratrol is a naturally occurring polyphenol abundant in wine, grapes, and some nuts. Researchers cautioned that moderation was key because excessive alcohol had a negative impact on bone density.

And, for information on getting enough vitamin D for strong bones, here’s more information!

For more detailed information on osteoporosis, visit here.

Has diet improved your bone density scans? How did you change your diet to build more bone density?

How to Age Well: 5 Tips to Make it Happen

how to age well

So, do you want to look your age? This topic can get pretty dicey as we push through the decades. I have one friend that says she’s earned her wrinkles and intentionally sports her gray hairs. No more hair coloring for her (we’ll see if that lasts)! I think it’s certainly a personal decision. I also think that if we implement diet and lifestyle strategies that make us look a bit younger than our real age, we might reap some very positive health benefits. After all, our health has to be our top priority as we get older. Better health usually means a better quality of life. We want to be able to enjoy our second 50 years, right? The following aging tips are science backed, and not that hard to implement.

My top five tips for how to age well

Wearing sunscreen as a first step for how to age well

This is a huge point and it’s never too late to start. Anti-aging dermatology procedures are pricey. They are almost all self-pay. If you can protect your skin early in life, it will help your appearance in your second 50 years. When I was in graduate school, I had a strange rash that brought me to the dermatologist. She told me at that point to never go in the sun again. I followed her advice (for the most part), and now that I have a Medicare card, I am so glad I did. Wrinkle removal is expensive and time consuming, prevention is much easier. The health benefit: lessened skin cancer risk. On a vanity scale, this was one of the best anti-aging tips anyone every suggested to me.

How to age well must include various types of exercise

exercise tips for aging

Cardio. We all know we should be moving our bodies more, right? For some, it is easier said than done. Lots of us have knees that hurt, but even for osteoarthritis, the current recommendations are to push through discomfort. Most health experts on this subject suggest the importance of bodily movement without a ton of sitting around. Options for lessening joint stress while working out with cardio include using a stationary bike and an elliptical. If you are able to move, you really should be sure to do so.

Resistance. And, on the exercise topic, don’t forget resistance type exercises. These exercises, using free weights or equipment, promote muscle strength. Progressive weight training in the older population can either help to manage or even prevent chronic and debilitating disease. It can mitigate risk for cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Appropriate strengthening of the back and abdomen can prevent debilitating back pain and improve core body strength.

Thoughts on body composition

Lastly, all exercise will help improve body composition. Body composition is the proportion of muscle, fat, bone, and other tissues that make up a person’s weigh-in weight on a scale. Having a favorable body composition (the right amount of body fat) usually has significant positive health implications. More muscle retained in the aging process translates to being able to eat more! Muscle is metabolically active, so it needs fuel. If you can eat more because you need more calories, think about how much easier it will be to manage your weight. That weight management can be a significant factor in preventing diabetes, heart disease, and even some types of cancer.

After counseling thousands upon thousands of clients over my career, it never ceases to amaze me how much younger the exercising crowd looks in middle and later life. Exercise really does seem to be the fountain of youth for both the interior and exterior of your body!

Manage Your Weight

how to age well means weight controlJust like those that exercise, people that are at an appropriate body weight always seem to look younger. For women in particular, weight gain seems to happen easily during menopause when our estrogen levels decline. A common “sign” of middle age in both women and men is the increased fat in the abdominal area-known as visceral fat. This fat pouch does not need to happen with a healthy eating plan matched to energy requirements and limited in alcohol. Losing this abdominal fat will lessen inflammation and decrease risk for diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer. Utilizing the suggested cardio and resistance exercise, along with a healthy diet will go a very long way in helping with weight management.

Sleep

It can be difficult to get enough sleep. It seems like each decade brings its own sleep issues. I know of so many seniors that will fall asleep, but then cannot stay asleep.  Getting up at 3:00 AM is not ideal, and many of us already did that when we raised our kids. Tips are to not overstimulate your brain before bed. Get off the iPad or phone if it is too stimulating before nodding off. Try to set a routine and stick to it most of the time.  Discuss sleep issues with your physician. Lastly, a little melatonin may be helpful. I generally recommend 3-5 mg about 30 minutes before bedtime. We make less as we age, so this supplement makes sense. The health benefit: you just feel so much better after a good sleep, it’s like magic!

Eating Well

Don’t give up on a healthy eating plan. Consult with a nutritional professional if you are totally confused about what you should be eating to maintain or improve your health. There is just so much information out there that is often incorrect or not correct for you as an individual. Most nutrition health care providers would suggest a diet high in fruits, vegetables, with the appropriate amounts of whole grains (all of which yield fiber) and lean protein.  A diet rich in colored fruits and vegetables will also help preserve your vision as you age. Some supplements might be in order as well, depending up your individual circumstances. For thoughts on those supplements:  5 Dietary Supplements for Baby Boomers!

If you haven’t implemented these self care aging tips yet, it’s never too old to start. For those of you in your second 50 years, what else can you add?

Hey Seniors, Reach for These 5 Dietary Supplements

Link

Supplements for seniorsWhile daily use of multi-nutrient supplements has fallen out of favor by some health professionals due to some recent studies, there are five supplements many seniors should take. While food is always the best source of nutrients, certain circumstances with aging may warrant adding these supplements to your diet! Here are the 5 recommended supplements for seniors :

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

We have too little of these essential fatty acids in our diet. While fish can be a good contributor of omega-3-fatty acids, eating fish a few times a week is not necessarily going to be insurance requirements are met. Other food sources include walnuts and flaxseed, but consistency is key. If these foods are not eaten regularly, a fish oil supplement a few times per week may be helpful.

CoQ10

We make this nutrient, but we make less of it as we age. If you are taking a statin drug to lower your cholesterol level, the statin drug will limit your body’s ability to make this nutrient. Consider taking CoQ10 if you are aging or on a cholesterol lowering statin!

Magnesium

While distributed in a wide variety of foods, my clients are often consuming too little of this nutrient. Magnesium may be easily washed and peeled away from foods during processing. A decreased calorie consumption also means less is being consumed through food.

Vitamin D

It is best to get your baseline blood vitamin D levels checked, but chances are you will benefit from at least some additional supplemental vitamin D. While we can make this vitamin, we make less as we age. Increased use of sunscreen will further decrease production of vitamin D. With mounting evidence that vitamin D plays roles in promoting strong bones, healthy blood pressure, fighting infection, and decreasing inflammation and cancer risk, supplementation is frequently warranted.  For more information on why it is hard to actually get enough vitamin D from foods, read on.

Calcium

If you skip the dairy group, there is a good chance you may not be meeting your calcium requirements. Calcium is important for more than our bones-it also protects against colon cancer and high blood pressure. If you opt out of drinking regular milk and eating dairy products, choose soy, rice, or almond milk. Just make sure the brand you choose is fortified with calcium. If you avoid these products altogether, consider a supplement. Consume 1000 mg up to 50 years of age; for 50+ the requirements increase to 1200 mg.

While my preference is always going to be to get nutrients through food, eating less as we age, medication, and lifestyle may impact our nutritional status.

Any one have other supplements they think we should be taking as we get older?