NUTRITION AND THE EYES
Mr. Bill Sardi, who has collected and studied a great deal of research on our eyes, spoke at a NOHA program on "Nutrition and the Eyes," October 15, 1997. He pointed out that our eyes are subject to radiation from light and that in the act of seeing they use a great deal of energy. As we know, in order to live we produce energy by using oxygen; this process produces many harmful free radicals, which then need to be quenched. Consequently, the overwhelming requirements for the health of our eyes are to protect them from the most dangerous forms of radiation and to have a sufficient supply of antioxidants to react with and destroy the free radicals. What follows is based on his talk and his four books* on nutrition and the eyes. First, his general recommendations:
Glutathione is composed of three amino acids: glutamic acid, cysteine, and cystine. For our bodies to form it from the proteins that we ingest, we must be sure to have good sources of sulfur. He suggested garlic, onion, asparagus, and eggs—in all cases, raised without pesticides. In regard to eggs, he told us about chickens that ate purslane, which gave their eggs high levels of omega-3 fatty acids that are protective for our nerves.
Sardi emphasized glutathione as especially important for the health of our eyes. However, many other antioxidants are important. All fruits and vegetables contain carotenoids, which are powerful antioxidants. A particular carotenoid, lutein, and its isomer (meaning the same molecular formula with different structure) zeaxanthin are "the only two carotenoids found in the eye, [specifically] in the region of the retina called the macula and also in the lens of the eye." Lutein is especially high in kale and spinach.
Sardi pointed out that during the nine months of pregnancy the capillaries are weak in order to get nutrients to the child. Also, for wound healing there is a temporary capillary weakness. Adrenal hormones, which give us a sudden burst of energy, will also temporaly weaken the capillaries. With stress, this weakness can become chronic .Here we see the <169>mind-body connection<170> and the health enhancement from humor with its delightful relaxing effects.
In his books Sardi touches on thirty-three eye diseases, but three are the most prevalent.
A cataract develops when the clear crystalline lens of the eye gradually develops some fogginess. Exposure to ultraviolet light (both A and B) hastens the dimness. Cataracts are more frequent in people who live in climates near the equator and in people who are frequently outdoors. The lens can be protected with wrap-around glasses that block ultraviolet A and B (UV-A and B) one hundred percent. Sardi is extremely critical of most sun glasses, those which do not block all ultraviolet light. Also, we hear about skin cancer from our manmade depletion of the protective ozone layer in the atmosphere. Sardi points out that injury to our eyes is even more severe than that to our skin.
Sardi lists twenty-two risk factors for cataracts Among them are ultraviolet sun rays; infrared heat rays; photosensitizing medications; smoking, alcohol, and other toxins, such as mercury or ethylene oxide gas; high sugar levels (diabetic cataract); lack of an enzyme to metabolize a milk product (galactose cataract); undernutrition; dehydration; electric shock; and trauma.
For preventive measures he emphasizes antioxidants including:
Sardi emphasizes the success and simplicity of cataract surgery, which involves giving the patient a new, clear lens. Activity and enjoyment of life can be tremendously enhanced by this operation. He points out that the new lens often includes some UV-blocking. However, removing the cloudy lens reduces the protection of the retina from UV-light, so he recommends wearing one-hundred-percent ultraviolet-blocking goggles.
Macular degeneration is the gradual deterioration of the central area of the retina, the macula, which gives us our central, focused vision, needed for reading, for driving, and for recognizing people. "Despite what is said about cataracts and glaucoma robbing people of their sight, it is macular degeneration that is the fastest growing cause of legal blindness in the United States, with over 15 million affected." It does not lead to total blindness because peripheral vision remains.
Usually, macular degeneration progresses slowly. It is basically a blood vessel disease of the retina, exacerbated by rays from the sun and by reduced levels of antioxidants. The lens focuses light onto the macula. Sardi points out that if people look directly at the sun, the rays will destroy retina cells. UV (A and B) can injure the retina. However, blue-violet rays "penetrate deeper into eye tissues and promote garbage deposits (drusen)," which weaken the retina and which are the diagnostic sign for macular degeneration. In his lecture Sardi suggested that we could ask our ophthalmologists whether or not any drusen are on our retinas. He advised that people with macular degeneration and those wishing to avoid it should get sunglasses that block UV (A and B) and also blue-violet light. These glasses will change light perception; for example, a blue sky will appear gray.
Melanin pigment in our retinas protects our eyes from sunlight damage. "The vulnerable time windows for solar radiation damage to the retina occur before the third decade of life, when the eye is more transparent to harmful sun rays, and after age fifty, when the protective melanin and antioxidants begin to dissipate. . . . From youth, the habitual use of wide brimmed hats and wrap-around sun goggles is advised."
For sun protection, plants use bioflavonoids, such as quercetin, rutin, bilberry, ginkgo biloba, pycnogenol, citrus, and hesperidin. Good natural sources are cherries, blueberries, citrus fruits, buckwheat, and red onions. Melanin is protective for us, and zinc is needed for its formation. Bioflavonoids not only are fine antioxidants, they also help prevent capillary-wall leakage.
Quercetin (from red onions) is particularly potent in blocking the spoilage (lipid peroxidation) by light of the polyunsaturated fats that are in the membranes of retinal cells. This membrane breakdown is a basic cause of macular degeneration. "Antioxidants, such as bioflavonoids, the cell-wall stabilizer taurine [a sulfur-containing amino acid, whose best natural sources are egg yolks and fish], and vitamin E may help protect the retina from deterioration."
Excellent capillary circulation and nerve conduction are essential for the functioning of the retina and, of course, for its central portion, the macula. Drusen appear when there is cell breakdown and the circulatory system is unable to remove the waste. Efforts to improve circulation and cell-wall integrity are mandatory.
For nerve conduction, certain fatty acids—especially the long-chain omega-3s are essential; they must be obtained in our diet. Sardi gives some recommendations from the work of Donald Rudin, MD, described in The Omega-3 Phenomenon. (We referred to this book in NOHA NEWS, Winter 1991, and reviewed the update Omega-3 Oils by Rudin and Felix in NOHA NEWS, Spring 1997.) As Professor Michael Crawford pointed out to us on April 9, 1997, DHA (docasahexaenoic acid—a very-long-chain omega-3 fatty acid) is essential for our eyes and for our intelligence. It is so necessary that a pregnant and nursing mother naturally depletes her own supply to give to the growing child. Sardi pointed out that the omega-3s are so important for normal neurological function that if the mother’s supply is too low for both herself and her child, she will suffer from post-partum depression.
Sardi states that larger doses of antioxidant nutrients are needed to prevent or to help with macular degeneration than with cataracts. The cones, which are specialized bright-light and color receptors on many retinal cells, take up to nine months to repair, so that any person with macular degeneration who initiates a program of nutrients, exercise, and sunlight-protection should continue at least that long before expecting improvement.
Glaucoma involves optic nerve damage. There are many different kinds. In the most common form there is high fluid pressure within the eye. Usually no pain is involved, so that the person is completely unaware of the problem. Consequently, it is extremely important to have regular eye examinations from an ophthalmologist, who has the instruments for testing fluid pressure within the eye. Then, there are eye drops and other measures that can reduce the pressure. If untreated, the damage to the optic nerve usually continues slowly and the person’s peripheral vision is the first destroyed.
Blood tests on glaucoma patients showed that they were much lower in thiamine (vitamin B1) than other patients who did not have glaucoma. Both groups of patients were receiving adequate amounts of thiamine in their food, so the author of the research concluded that the glaucoma patients probably did not absorb the vitamin well. (A severe deficiency of thiamine results in beriberi, which includes optic nerve disease.)
"When researchers in Japan gave glaucoma patients 1500 micrograms of vitamin B12 over five years, a significant number of patients regained some sight and others showed no deterioration: no side effects were reported." Vitamin B12 is necessary for maintaining the integrity of the fatty layer surrounding nerve cells (the myelin sheath).
Stress can exacerbate glaucoma. Anxiety increases the production of adrenaline from the adrenal glands. "Low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia) are known to result from the release of adrenaline. Among other symptoms, adrenaline increases blood pressure and heart rate, arrests digestion, results in dryness of the mouth and throat, and produces muscular tension. An acute emotional state can increase the size of the pupil and cause the eyes to bulge and water. As the pupils dilate, the fluid drains become smaller. . . . After age forty or so, emotional upset may trigger the dilation of the pupil and a secretion of adrenaline that can set off an acute glaucoma episode."
Exercise programs for sedentary adults can reduce fluid pressure in the eyes. Even one session can reduce eye fluid pressure.
"Compared with Caucasians, Greenland Eskimos, whose diet is rich in fish oils, have a very low incidence of the common form of glaucoma." Our grandmothers gave us cod liver oil; and flax seed oil has been used for generations. (See NOHA NEWS, Winter 1991.) Both are excellent forms of omega-3 oils. We must remember to ingest extra antioxidants to protect these highly unsaturated oils from oxidation.
Allergy can be a problem in glaucoma. Histamine released in an allergic reaction dilates small blood vessels and can congest the fluid cleanup around the meshwork of cells in the front of our eyes. Histamine may also restrict the outflow of fluid from the eyes. Sardi cites an interesting case from the Annals of Allergy:
In his four books on Nutrition and the Eyes, Sardi emphasizes physician care. Go to your ophthalmologist for regular checkups! Many serious eye conditions do not manifest in symptoms that are particularly or even at all apparent to the patient. They can, of course, be detected in an examination by an ophthalmologist. Sardi emphasizes openness with and frequent visits to your ophthalmologist.
For helping to slow down or, in some cases, for reversing all eye diseases, Sardi points out that improving our overall health is essential. We need to exercise to have good circulation and digestion. The tiny blood vessels in our eyes need to supply all the necessary nutrients, including oxygen, and to be efficient at removing waste. Our digestive system must properly process the foods and supplements that we ingest.
* Sardi, Bill, Nutrition and the Eyes: How to Keep Your Eyes Healthy Naturally, Vols. I, II, III, and supplement, Health Spectrum Publishers, Montclair, CA, 1994.
Article from NOHA NEWS, Vol. XXIII, No. 1, Winter 1998, pages 2-4.