Although not widely promoted, age-related eye diseases such as glaucoma have been rising, along with all the other degenerative diseases such as cancer, heart disease, arthritis and Alzheimer's. Four million Americans now suffer from glaucoma, the leading cause of blindness in the United States. Approximately 120,000 of these people have actually gone blind from glaucoma. Ten percent of the population in America between the ages of 66 and 74 have macular degeneration, thirty percent of the population from 75-85 years old.
What makes these numbers so astonishing is that these are diseases that do not have to occur at all if people were getting enough antioxidants in their diet. Studies suggest that diets rich in antioxidants may help reduce your risk of developing age-related diseases like glaucoma.
Foods for Protecting Your Eyesight
For basic prevention of degenerative eye problems, antioxidants called carotenoids are the most important ones to consider. Carotenoids are found in fruits and vegetables that are red, orange, and deep yellow in color, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, tomatoes, corn, and peppers, among others. Dark-green leafy vegetables are some other good sources. The highest concentration of lutein and zeaxanthin is found in egg yolks, another reason not to avoid this incredibly nutritious food.
Dark green vegetables are other good sources of lutein and zeaxanthin. Think of kale, spinach, turnip greens, collard greens, romaine lettuce, broccoli, zucchini, garden peas and brussels sprouts, corn, kiwi and honeydew.
If you eat a lot of foods from this list on a daily basis, you are probably giving your eyes all the antioxidants that they need for glaucoma prevention. However, I suspect that this includes a very small percentage of the population. How about you?
When Should You Supplement Your Diet with Carotenoids?
If you're not keen on these foods, or you have some already-developed symptoms of degenerative eye disease, you might want to consider nutritional supplements specifically designed for eye nutrition. A single capsule of one of these can provide you with 25,000 International Units of mixed carotenes, an amount large enough to get powerful antioxidant protection from cancer and heart disease, as well as eye problems. In order to get that much from your diet, though, you've got to eat these depths of any one of the following:
- 3 medium-sized cooked carrots, or
- 3 cups of collard greens
- 2 cups of spinach
- 3 sweet potatoes
- 9 cups of cantaloupe
- 6 cups of red peppers
You can see why taking carotene supplements can be so powerful!
What are the best Carotenoid Supplements for Glaucoma Prevention?
Mixed-Carotene Supplements Look for natural, mixed carotenes combined into one capsule. The carotene content of these supplements is usually listed in international units (IU). Look for products made from an algae called Dunaliella salina, in amounts of from 10,000IU to 25,000IU of beta carotene. These mixed carotene supplements will typically include the carotenoids alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and cryptoxanthin. You'll need at least that much to get the full antioxidant benefits from the carotenoids.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin
Lutein and zeaxanthin are the only carotenoids found in the retina and lens of the eye. When combined with vitamin C and vitamin E, they protect your eyes from free radical damage and improve your vision by filtering out potentially-dangerous ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
For more protection, or for treating specific eye problems, you could also take one of the combinations that combine lutein and zeaxanthin with bilberry. These supplements usually contain 10 to 20mg. of lutein and about 1mg. of zeaxanthin. That would be the equivalent of eating about 3 cups of cooked spinach or a dozen-and-a-half eggs. The typical dose for bilberry is usually between 40mg. for preventive measures and 160mg. per day as a therapeutic dose.
Ginkgo Biloba is an herbal supplement that has also been shown to be extremely beneficial for eye health. This herb increases blood flow in the capillary network and repairs oxidative stress damage to the capillary walls and retina. Ginkgo is certainly a valuable part of a glaucoma prevention program, as well as for cataracts and macular degeneration.
Another relatively new discovery for eye problems is the carotenoid astaxanthin, extracted from microalgae. Astaxanthin is one of the most powerful antioxidants that we know of. It is one of the few antioxidants that can cross the blood-retinal barrier and bring protection to the eyes. It is said to be more beneficial for the eyes in some ways than lutein. It also works all through the body – organs and skin, and in every part of the cell.
Eyesight Combination Products
Some product-makers create antioxidant combinations specifically formulated for eyesight. These will include any number of nutrients beneficial for the eyes, including some of the ones mentioned above. What you pay for with the convenience of just one combination capsule is that the dosages of each will be somewhat lower than if they were separate supplements.
Do not Drop Out the Veggies Altogether!
Remember that carotenoid supplements will not have all of the phytonutrients that are present in the foods themselves, so do not drop out the veggies altogether! Diet is a key part of any glaucoma prevention program.