How Your Eyes Can Predict Disease
Your eyes are a unique window into health. Yahoo Health has assembled a list of 14 things your eyes can tell you about your entire body. Here are some of them:
When the outer third of your eyebrow starts to disappear on its own, this is a common sign of thyroid disease.
A stye that won’t go away
If it doesn’t clear up in three months, or keeps recurring in the same location, it could be a rare cancer called sebaceous gland carcinoma.
Burning eyes, blurry vision while using a computer
This is the result of “computer vision syndrome” (CVS). The eyestrain is partly caused by the lack of contrast on a computer screen, and the extra work involved in focusing on pixels.
A small blind spot in your vision, with shimmering lights or a wavy line
A migraine aura produces this disturbed vision. It may or may not be accompanied by a headache.
Whites of the eye turned yellowish
This is known as jaundice. It appears in either newborns with immature liver function, or adults with problems of the liver, gallbladder, or bile ducts.
Eyes that seem to bulge
The most common cause of protruding eyes is hyperthyroidism, which is overactivity of the thyroid gland.
Sudden double vision, dim vision, or loss of vision
These are the visual warning signs of stroke.
Blurred vision in a diabetic
Diabetics are at increased risk for several eye problems, but the most common is diabetic retinopathy, in which diabetes affects the circulatory system of the eye. It’s the leading cause of blindness in American adults.
Your eyesight is one of your most precious senses but it’s easy to take the gift of sight for granted, until it starts to fail. Unfortunately, one of the leading causes of blindness in American adults is a side effect of diabetes. This is disconcerting when you consider that today, nearly 1 in 4 Americans are either pre-diabetic or diabetic.
The increased use of computers and video display terminals (VDTs) at home and work has also led to an increase in vision problems due to eye strain.
Is Poor Vision Inevitable as You Age?
No, it’s not.
But our modern lifestyles can contribute to poor vision if you’re not careful. Fortunately, there are many actions you can take to support your eye health. Studies show people over age 60 may need even more support in the form of well-chosen nutritional supplements. You may also need additional vision support if:
- You smoke
- You’re obese
- You’re diabetic
- You spend a lot of time staring at a computer
Below, I’ll review a number of protective strategies, including nutritional support, but first, can your eyes really tell you something about your overall state of health?
Iridology—Your Eyes as the Mirrors of Your Health?
The Yahoo Health article above brings up several interesting correlations between your eyes and your overall health by hinting at potential underlying health problems. Iridology, or iridodiagnosis, which is the study of the iris of your eye, is yet another technique in that same vein, used by some alternative health practitioners.
This theory goes back to the mid-17th Century, but iridology has yet to be recognized by mainstream medicine. In fact, the majority of medical professionals scoff at the idea.
The basic theory behind this technique is that various characteristics, such as patterns and colors, in specific zones of your iris can provide information about your systemic health. This is done by carefully examining your iris and matching it to iris charts. Using these charts, an iridologist can help identify systems and organs in your body that may be inflamed, or over- or underactive. It cannot, however, diagnose specific diseases—all it can do, at best, is give an indication of your systemic strengths or weaknesses.
Still, this information may be helpful under some circumstances.
Keep in mind however, that iridology practitioners are not legally required to be licensed or certified in the US or Canada, so if you decide to give it a try, I’d recommend you locate an iridologist who is also a licensed medical practitioner.
Natural, Common-Sense Strategies to Help Protect Healthy Vision
Before we get into specific nutritional factors that specifically benefit your eyes, it’s important to address some of the lifestyle basics that can impact your vision. Natural, common-sense strategies that will help protect your vision as you age include:
- Quit smoking. Smoking increases free radical production throughout your body, and puts you at risk for less-than-optimal health in many ways, including the risk of decreased vision.
- Care for your cardiovascular system. High blood pressure can cause damage to the miniscule blood vessels on your retina, obstructing free blood flow.One of the primary ways to maintain optimal blood pressure is to avoid fructose. Research by Dr. Richard Johnson, chief of the division of kidney disease and hypertension at the University of Colorado, shows that consuming 74 grams or more per day of fructose (equal to 2.5 sugary drinks) increases your risk of having blood pressure levels of 160/100 mmHg by 77 percent!
- Normalize your blood sugar. Excessive sugar in your blood can pull fluid from the lens of your eye, affecting your ability to focus. And, it can damage the blood vessels in your retina, also obstructing blood flow.
- Eat plenty of fresh dark green leafy vegetables, especially kale. Studies have shown that a diet rich in dark leafy greens helps support eye health. And that those with the highest consumption of carotenoid-rich vegetables, especially ones rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, had increased vision health.
- Get plenty of healthy omega-3 fat. A study published in the August 2001 issue of Archives of Ophthalmology found that consuming omega-3 fatty acids was protective of your healthy vision. Unfortunately, due to widespread pollution and fish farming, fish is no longer an ideal source for omega-3 fats unless you can verify its purity. My favorite alternative is krill oil, which also contains astaxanthin. This potent antioxidant also has specific benefits for your eyes, which I’ll discuss below.
- Avoid trans fats. A diet high in trans fat appears to contribute to macular degeneration by interfering with omega-3 fats in your body. Trans fat is found in many processed foods and baked goods, including margarine, shortening, fried foods like French fries, fried chicken and doughnuts, cookies, pastries and crackers. So, to protect your eyes, avoid trans fats like the plague.
- Avoid aspartame. Vision problems is one of the many acute symptoms of aspartame poisoning.
Antioxidants—Your Greatest Allies for Healthy Eyes
The job of an antioxidant compound is to neutralize dangerous free radicals in your body, including your eyes. A few of the antioxidants that have been shown to be of particular benefit to your eyes include:
- Black currant anthocyanins
Here, I will discuss lutein and astaxanthin in particular as they are potent allies in the prevention of eye problems.
Lutein Helps Protect Your Central Vision
The first two, lutein and zeaxanthin, are found in high concentrations in the macula lutea, and are believed to serve two primary roles:
- To absorb excess photon energy, and
- To quench free-radicals before they damage the lipid membranes
The highest concentration of lutein in your eyes is in your macula – the tiny central part of your retina responsible for straight-ahead and detailed vision. More specifically, lutein is found in the macular pigment, and is known for helping to protect your central vision.
Lutein is a naturally occurring carotenoid, found in green leafy vegetables, as well as yellow and orange fruits and vegetables.
Lutein Content of Foods
|Food||Mg / serving|
|Kale (raw)||26.5 / 1 cup|
|Kale (cooked)||23.7 / 1 cup|
|Spinach (cooked)||20.4 / 1 cup|
|Collards (cooked)||14.6 / 1 cup|
|Turnip greens (cooked)||12.2 / 1 cup|
|Green peas (cooked)||4.1 / 1 cup|
|Spinach (raw)||3.7 / 1 cup|
|Corn (cooked)||1.5 / 1 cup|
|Broccoli (raw)||1.3 / 1 cup|
|Romaine lettuce (raw)||1.1 / 1 cup|
|Green beans (cooked)||0.9 / 1 cup|
|Broccoli (cooked)||0.8 / 1/2 cup|
|Papaya (raw)||0.3 / 1 large|
|Egg||0.2 / 1 large|
|Orange (raw)||0.2 / 1 large|
|U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory. 2005. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 20 (2007), Nutrient Data Laboratory Astaxanthin—Powerful Protection Against Two Leading Forms of Blindness|
Although zeaxanthin and lutein do provide benefits to your eyes, science is now revealing that astaxanthin is really the ULTIMATE carotenoid for eye health, and the prevention of blindness.
It’s a much more powerful antioxidant than both lutein and zeaxanthin, and has been found to have protective benefits against a number of eye-related problems, including:
- Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD)
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Retinal arterial occlusion
- Venous occlusion
- Cystoid macular edema
- Inflammatory eye diseases (i.e., retinitis, iritis, keratitis, and scleritis)
Astaxanthin also helps maintain appropriate eye pressure levels that are already within the normal range, and supports your eyes’ energy levels and visual acuity.
As you can see, this list includes three of the leading causes of blindness in the US: macular degeneration, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy, which makes this antioxidant all the more important.
As mentioned earlier, krill oil is a great source of both healthy omega-3 fat and astaxanthin, but there are also other astaxanthin supplements on the market that are specifically formulated to support optimal eye health.
If you are going to give astaxanthin a try, I recommend starting with 2 to 4 mg per day. If you are on a krill oil supplement, take that into consideration; different krill products have different concentrations of astaxanthin, so check your label. Our krill product has 0.5 mg in a daily dose.
Your eyes are now subjected to much higher levels of oxidation than our ancestors experienced. Not only are there more contaminants in today’s environment, but the depletion of our ozone layer is causing more intense sunlight than ever before, which directly exposes your eyes and skin to more free radicals.
In addition, as you age, your body loses some of its ability to produce the high levels of antioxidants it needs to counter the everyday assault on your tissues and organs by pollution, contaminants in food and water, household chemicals, pharmaceutical drugs, and high levels of stress.
Therefore, anything you can do to protect your eyes from these assaults will reduce your risk for developing macular degeneration and other diseases, and antioxidants that cross your blood-brain-retinal barrier—such as astaxanthin—to reach the inner eye are crucial to protect you from increasing numbers of free radicals as you age.
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