With so many of us spending longer in front of screens, which can be hard on the eyes, now is the perfect time to focus on our eye health. Here Together Health dietitian Lola Biggs explains how to support your eyes through a good diet and lifestyle.
As a young child sitting for dinner, a promise of super-powered night vision was made - with one rule, I must eat all my carrots. Years on and I am still eating plenty, however for other goals than seeing in the dark. The bright orange colour of this humble root vegetable is due to the levels and types of carotenoids (with over 600 found in nature). Beta-carotene, characterised by its orange colour, is the most abundant type, and in fact, the word carotene comes from the Latin word for carrot.
It is these pigments which link the root veggie to improved eye health. The body is the perfect alchemist, digesting foods and absorbing these powerful pigments, a proportion of which are transformed into an essential nutrient, Vitamin A.
Researchers at the National Eye Institute in the US discovered that taking high levels of a combination of vitamins for eye health, including vitamin A and zinc, can reduce the risk of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by around 25% over a six year period.
According to Emily Chew, deputy Clinical Director at the National Eye Institute, "vitamin A is really important." Converted by the body from beta-carotene, vitamin A helps the eyes to convert light into a signal that can be transmitted by the brain, enabling us to see in low light conditions. Furthermore, the cornea - the clear surface that protects the pupil - can be damaged if the body does not get enough vitamin A.
These pigments are not exclusive to carrots and it's no surprise that they are plentiful in an array of colourful fruits and veggies. Keep your body's bounty full by aiming for a rainbow on your plate or throughout the day - think greens, purples, reds, and yellows if you want to keep your eye health in focus.
Supplements for Eye Health
Amongst the 600 carotenoids, a few take the spotlight when it comes to our eye health, and two of these are Lutein and Zeaxanthin (zee-uh-zan’-thin). From your rainbow plate, these will be found mostly in the deep and leafy greens.
With multiple benefits for the body, they act as all-round protective antioxidants, and their high presence within the macula and retina of our eyes strongly confirms their importance in daily vision.
Research performed at Schepens Eye Research Institute and Department of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School has established that dietary zeaxanthin plays an essential role in protecting the retina of the eye from the damaging effects of light.
And it is now understood that Lutein and Zeaxanthin are massively remedial against the increasing strain of blue light, the omnipresent wave of light that fills our eyes from all the screens in our life. In the inner retina they serve as a filter for high energy, short wavelength blue light.
Screens are everywhere and sometimes feel unavoidable, in place to make our lives easier and everything more accessible with the sweep of a thumb, but studies have shown that time spent on them does have a negative effect on our eye health, and we feel it! Digital eye strain (DES), also known as computer vision syndrome, is a type of eye fatigue that is estimated to affect 50% or more of computer users. The more blue light we take in, the higher the build-up of oxidative stress. This type of stress is thought to be partly responsible for the ageing process of our eyes.
Our eyes need the same foods as the rest of the body. So as a dietitian, I mirror the advice for optimum health: encouraging regular fresh fruit and vegetable intake, mixing lightly cooked and raw versions, and not skipping on those dark leafy greens.
Good fats get some special attention, those rich in DHA, a form that is abundant within the eye, confirming again its importance. In a study that included DHA along with a range of supplements (including lutein and astaxanthin) it was shown to improve the eye's ability to focus and symptoms related to eye fatigue.
Looking for more eye support?
Good news! Together Health has created a concentrated formula filled with potent eye supplements, sourced from sustainable marigolds and bioavailable seaweed. Special pigments including Zeaxanthin, Meso zeaxanthin and Astaxanthin, plus Lutein and a helpful dose of Beta-carotene, all work collectively as a protective shield for the eyes - think of them as a natural SPF against those screens!