Nabila Mayet Cassim explores ways to optimise eye health as we age.

Your eyesight can possibly be one of the more important senses that may deteriorate with age. Eye health is an important part of our general health, and being cognisant of the nutrients that are important is valuable when it comes to boosting eye health against harmful light and reducing the risk of age-related degenerative diseases.
Optometrist Rubeena Jadwat says “Age sometimes brings changes that weaken your vision and eyes, but there are things you can do to maintain lifelong eye-health,” she says.

AN OVERVIEW OF COMMON EYE DISEASES:
Cataracts: A condition that leaves your eyes feeling cloudy. Age-related cataracts can be a leading cause of vision impairment and blindness.
Dry eye disease: When there is insufficient tear fluid which causes the eyes to dry up and lead to discomfort and visual problems.
Diabetic Retinopathy: This condition is associated with diabetes and is a driving force behind visual impairment and blindness. Usually, this condition develops with high blood sugar levels that damage the blood vessels in the retina.
Glaucoma: Degeneration of optic nerve due to increased intraocular pressure. This condition may cause weakened eyesight or blindness.
Macular degeneration: This condition comes with age and is one of the main causes of blindness.

“Although your risk of getting these conditions depends to some extent on your genes, your diet also plays a major role,” Dr Jadwat explains.

An unhealthy diet of highly processed foods that lack nutritional value may not provide enough nutrients to support optimum eye-health. In fact, research suggests that a high-fat diet of processed foods may increase the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

So what are we required to add to our diet to assist with our eye-health?

Vitamin A:
A lack of vitamin A consumption may result in night blindness, dry eyes or even permanent blindness. Carrots may be the food best
known for helping your eyes because they are rich in beta carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A. But other Vitamin A rich foods such as liver, egg yolks and dairy products are also vital.

Gamma-Linolenic Acid:
Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is an omega-6 fatty acid found in small amounts. The richest sources of GLA are evening primrose oil and starflower oil. “Some evidence suggests that taking evening primrose oil may reduce the symptoms of dry eye disease,” Dr Jadwat says.

Vitamin E:
Vitamin E is a group of fat-soluble antioxidants that protect fatty acids from harmful oxidation. The best sources of vitamin E include almonds, sunflower seeds, and vegetable oils like flaxseed oil.

Zinc:
Because our eyes contain high levels of zinc it is important to include zinc in our diets to maintain our eyesight. Zinc can be found in meat, pumpkin seeds, peanuts and oysters.

Vitamins C, lutein, zeaxanthin, and omega-3 fatty acids:
These vitamins all play a role in eye health. They can help prevent cataracts – the clouding of your eye lens. They may also fight the most likely cause of vision loss when you’re older – age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Moringa and Spirulina:
Both moringa and spirulina boast high antioxidant levels. “Moringa may stop the dilation of retinal vessels, prevent the thickening of capillary membranes, and inhibit retinal dysfunction while spirulina may help reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration,” says Sofiyya Haffejee Head of Aafiyah Healthcare.

“Spirulina and Moringa capsules are effective in supplementing a healthy diet that promotes healthy eyes,” Haffejee adds. The truth of the matter is that regular check-ups are essential.

In addition, Dr Jadwat provides these tips to optimise your eye health:

• Yearly check-up’s for under 16’s and over 60’s – this will detect any problems early on.
• Wear sunglasses from teen years, the UV damage to eyes can be prevented by this one simple task.
• Hypertension and Diabetes are two major causes of eye problems and both these diseases can be controlled or prevented by a good diet and exercise.
• If you wear contact lenses, ensure they are worn only 4-5 times/week for a maximum for 5-7 hours daily.

This will prevent major eye problems in later years. A healthy body will result in healthy eyes too.