eye chart

By Bob Condor

More Americans are having trouble reading eye charts. That’s the bottom-line finding from a study published earlier this month in the Archives of Ophthalmology medical journal. Nearly half of all U.S. adults have some sort of vision problem, far greater than any previous estimates. One difference is a much larger number of people with nearsightedness or myopia.

Interestingly, the new stat aligns more closely with other countries’ collective adult vision For instance, it’s a straight-on match with people of Chinese origin. Compromised vision is widely connected by scientists as genetic and not associated with, say, reading too long without corrective lenses or watching too much television and/or playing video games.

Sorry about that final point, parents. You will have to find another explanation why you are turning off the set or signing off.

There are some distinct risk factors for vision problems, including cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degneration (when central vision is blurred and peripheral vision is still clear). Smoking and obesity increase risk, and so does inadequate antioxidants in your diet.

An upcoming post will introduce a series of posts related to weight loss, which can not only drop pounds but improve your health in such areas as vision. Smoking? The potential for messing up your future vision, especially developing macular degeneration, seems high motivation to quit.

So let’s talk about antioxidants and dietary supplements. Whether you already struggle with vision problems, don’t want to experience and/or have family history, there are some effective strategies for your food and supplement intake:

Lutein: A number of studies point to this antioxidant and a companion, zeaxanthin, as substances that can prevent or delay eye diseases. Oklahoma State University researchers report that lutein and zeaxanthin reduce cataract risks (especially during post-menopause) and lessen macular degeneraton symptoms.

One vital note about lutein and zeaxanthin: Research shows successful prevention of symptoms only at higher doses, such as 10 to 15 milligrams daily. A lower dose doesn’t appear to have much, if any, effect. In fact, some studies increase the dose to upwards of 40 milligrams per day.

Lutein is available in certain foods, such kales, spinach, collard greens, turnip greens, romaine lettuce, broccoli, zucchini (the often lowly respected veggie that grows wild in the garden), corn (another nutritional

ly disregarded fresh vegetable), garden peas and eggs. A serving of leafy greens (about a cup) provides 1 milligram.

The best food sources of zeaxanthin are turnip greens, dark green lettuce, spinach and tangeries (surprise and yum). Fewer studies have examined the therapeutic doses of zeaxanthin, which along with lutein, are the only two antioxidants in the eye lenses.

Astaxanthin: This is another antioxidant (like lutein and zeaxanthin, it’s a carotenoid) that is gaining visibility for maintain optimal eye health. Research studies have been launched, but for now your best bet for consuming this eye membrane-builder is eating salmon, trout, shrimp, crayfish and lobster. Krill is another highly dense source, so a krill oil supplement is a formidable idea. Yeast also contains astaxanthin.

Bilberry: This herbal remedy has support in European studies as an eye protector. Like lutein, it promotes good night vision and increased circulation in the eye blood vessels. The bilberry is a cousin to super-nutrient blueberries and cranberries. Research suggest regular supplementation can stabilize eye health, but therapeutic doses have not be clearly identified.

DHA: Docosahexaenoic acid or DHA is a essential omega-3 fat plentiful in cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines and anchovies. A 2008 study shows a daily dose of 800 milligrams in supplement form can protect against the onset of macular degeneration.

Green tea: This nutritional powerhouse has been associated with improving blurred vision. Studies are underway to determine if it has a more lasting impact on protecting the eyes from diseases.

For any of us who are 20 and older—that’s not a typo—some form of vision supplement is a worthwhile idea. That goes double for anyone with macular degneration, cataracts or glaucoma in his/her family history. And, in any case, making it a point to eat one to three foods per day for the eyes is a healthy and effective strategy.

“Bob Condor is the Daily Health Blogger for Barton Publishing . He is also the Living Well columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer . He covers natural health and quality of life issues and writes regularly for national magazines, including Life, Esquire, Parade, Self, and Outside. He is a former syndicated health columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of six books, including “The Good Mood Diet” and “Your Prostate Cancer Survivors' Guide.” He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and two 11-year-old kids.