Several members of my family wear glasses or contact lenses. When I was five years old - determined to avoid ever having to stick my finger in my eye to retrieve an errant lens - I consumed carrots by the fistful. For several years, carrots were my snack of choice, and I ate so many my mom wondered at how I hadn't managed to turn orange.
When we learn how to be healthy, we want to make sure we're paying attention to our internal health, not just our waistline, or how we look in glasses. The kind of bad vision I was fighting against isn't actually that much of a problem; near- and far-sighted eyes are perfectly healthy. There are, however, any number of diseases that do affect your eyes, with serious consequences for your physical health and well-being. Among these, the most far-reaching is macular degeneration (MD), a disease characterized by loss of vision in the center of the eye, making it difficult to drive, read and recognize faces. Among the risk factors that may cause MD are:
- Age and heredity
- High blood pressure and high cholesterol
- Unhealthy diet
High cholesterol and bad diet are things we know to avoid when we learn how to be healthy. Less well known, though, is that studies have shown that obesity increases the risk that early MD will advance to a more severe health problem.
It would be silly and not very insightful for me to say that vision is an essential part of our daily lives, and that the loss of it takes a serious toll on more than just our physical well-being. Vision loss is something we all have to contend with as we age...whether we face cataracts, optic nerve damage, macular degeneration, or the frustration of trying to read through bifocals.
Since safeguarding vision is an essential part of how to be healthy, there are steps we can take to increase our odds of avoiding MD and extend our 20/20 vision into the future.
- Get your vitamins: Vitamin A maintains the membrane around the eye, C protects the retina, and D & E offer protection from MD. Keep in mind that your body does best absorbing vitamins from your food. So chow down on cantaloupe, apricots and leafy greens (A), red and green bell peppers, oranges and broccoli (C) salmon and tuna (D) and greens and nuts (E). Plus, B vitamins help lower your cholesterol, a risk factor for MD.
- Stock up on antioxidants: Is there anything these free radical fighters can't do? Researchers believe that antioxidants - specifically lutein and zeaxanthin - are essential for maintaining eye health. Luckily, these antioxidants are readily available in kale, broccoli and other leafy greens.
- Get your Omega-3s: Not only do Omega-3s help lower cholesterol; researchers believe getting your daily dose may lower your risk of macular degeneration by 30%. Omega-3s are available in oily fish and flax seeds.
- Don't smoke: Cigarette smoking is not only linked to an increased chance of developing MD, but also optic nerve damage and cataracts.
- Wear sunglasses: Exposure to UV light increases the risk of developing MD. Throw on some cool shades before heading out, especially during the summer.