Updated 10/7/23; Originally Published 7/23/23
Many people are born with good or normal vision but that vision degrades as we age. We often accept poor vision in our later years as inevitable but is it really? What if by living a Wellness Lifestyle you could maintain or even improve your vision well into your elder years? What if you could feel better not older even in your eyes?
Table of Contents
Structure of Your Eye
The back of your eye is where much of the action of vision happens. The retina covers the back of your eye and contains rods and cones. Rods require low light levels to work and are associated with good night vision. Cones require bright light to work and are associated with good daytime vision. As we age, if we are using rods often enough, the rods will start to die off and we lose our night vision. If we overuse our cones, they will start to “tire” and will begin operating at lower capacity.
All the information from your eye travels from the back of your eye up the optic nerve to your brain. Your optic nerve can be damaged when pressure inside the eye remains high for too long. One of the body’s many responses to stress is to increase blood and ocular pressure. When the cause of the stress goes away, the pressure inside your eyes and blood pressure should go back down. If the stress stays up more than it goes down, you are setting yourself up for eye damage – boo!
The macula is a thin region in the center back of your eye. Your macula is used for straight ahead vision. It is covered with pigments (colors!) – the more the better for eye sight and protection of the integrity of the macula as you age. These macular pigments are primarily carotenes (found in carrots and more) and xanthopylls (lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin).
Before light gets to the back of your eye, it has to travel through the lens of your eye. Your lens should be clear and pliable and surrounded by water (called aqueous) full of nutrients. Your lens is made of proteins all stacked up nicely together. If the proteins degrade or clump up, your lens gets cloudy and your vision (both day and night) decreases. This is the beginning of the formation of cataracts. Cataract development occurs when the nutrient level in the aqueous goes down and the proteins in the lens are not properly broken down and recreated- a normal part of the body’s internal self maintenance.
Ways to Assess Your Current Eye Health
Wide Field Retina Photo
A wide field retinal photo takes a photo of the entire retina so you can track changes from year to year. Taking a photo like this often requires your eyes to be dilated in order to gain access to the entire retina at once. From this photo, your eye care professional can see a great many things about your overall body health and your eye health.
OptoMap performs a digital retinal scan that takes only a few minutes and does not require dilation drops in your eyes. An Optomap scan can offer information about the health of your eyes and direct you towards dietary and lifestyle changes that will help you improve eye health.
Ocular Coherence Tomography (OCT) is like a CT scan of your retina and the eye just in front of it – allowing your doctor to see the 3 dimensional structure of the back of your eye and your retina. An OCT scan is much fancier than a plain old picture but it allows you to see what is going on throughout the thickness of the retina.
Macular Pigment Ocular Density
You can measure the amount of pigments or color your macula has at some opthamologist offices during a test called Macular Pigment Ocular Density (MPOD). Studies show that individuals with lower MPOD scores also have poor vision, reduced cognitive activity, and worse memory function in the brain. To raise your MPOD score, your diet needs to include more foods that contain macular carotinoids – more colors for your eyes! Your eye health and your brain health are highly connected!
Amsler Grid Self-Test
An easy macula test that you can do at home involves an Amsler Grid. You simply look at the Amsler grid and see if all the lines are straight and even or if you are starting to see curves and deviations. I have an Amsler grid up for your use at my La Plata, Maryland studio. You can get one for yourself and the instructions too!
Eye Snellen Chart
You will probably recognize this chart as it is the common chart that you are asked to read during a standard eye exam. Did you know there are 2 versions to it! One with various letters and one with only the capital E shape but it faces different direction. Guess which one I put up at Zen and Vitality for your use? Yes, the one that is harder to cheat with. The more you practice looking at this chart from different distances and without your glasses on (or contacts in!), the stronger your eye muscles will be and the better your vision will get.
Dry Eyes and the Importance of Tears
Tears could be considered the unsung hero for eye health. Why else would we create 15-30 gallons of tears every year? Tears in your eyes provide hydration, chemical protection, and physical protection for the front surface (cornea) of your eyes. Tears are a mixture of water, salt, mucus, proteins, and fats/oils. We have 3 types of tears:
- Basal tears are present all the time to support clear vision and eye health. As we age, we make less basal tears which negatively affects our vision and eye health. Since your cornea has no blood flow, think of basal tears as the fluid that both nourishes the surface of your eye and helps the light hitting the front of your eye to focus properly on the back of your eye.
- Reflex tears flood the eyes when there is an immediate need to cleanse the eye. Crying when you cut onions? Crying when you sit outside under a tree releasing pollen? It is just reflex tears doing their job. Reflex tears contain more antibodies to prevent infection then basal tears.
- Emotional tears are released upon strong emotions and are thought to contain more hormones and proteins then the other types of tears.
When you release a flood of reflex or emotional tears, you often overwhelm the tear drainage system that flows through your nose and throat. The excess tears fall out of your eyes and roll down your checks and clog up your nose.
5 Ways to Support Healthy Tear Production
- Hydration: Maintain proper hydration (water + minerals + movement) throughout the body and there will be enough salty water to make the right amount of tears for your eye protection.
- Omega-3: Ensure a healthy fat intake and fatty acid production in your gut – get the right amount of Omega-3’s and Omega-6’s. Without enough fats, your tears will evaporate too fast and your eyes will get dry. The same is true of your skin! How much daily intake should you aim for? Excellent question. You can follow the suggestions on the bottle and see if that helps or, even better, you can measure your current Omega status with a simple at home Omega-3 Index Blood Spot Test and get recommendations on how much to supplement to bring your levels to optimal. I have three supplements that work well for my clients: Citrus Flavored Omega-3 Squeeze, Super Omega-3 Plus, and Spirulina.
- Calm Your Nervous System: Activate the calming half of your nervous system – the parasympathetic part – to keep tear production occurring and prevent dry eyes. Breathe, practice yoga or Pilates, meditate, laugh, there are so many options to incorporate into your Wellness Lifestyle.
- Blink! Blinking distributes tears across the surface of your eye to keep an even moisture level. When we focus on looking at a screen, we tend not to blink. So blink!
- Reduce Your Inflammation: Lower your chronic inflammation so your parasympathetic nervous system can stimulate tear production. Omega-3 supplements are a partial solution as they are anti-inflammatory. Healing your gut is the goal here. I would love to chat with you about which of the many other inflammation lowering activities might work best for your unique needs.
Eye Shape and Eye Exercises
How well you see far away objects and nearby objects depends on both the shape of your eyeball and the strength and control of your eye muscles.
The shape of your eye develops during childhood and adolescence based on which distances you spend time looking at. If your childhood was spent reading, writing, watching a screen, sitting in a car, etc you likely developed a long eyeball that can not easily see well far away (myopia). If you spent your younger years looking across mountains, down long roads, identifying trees from leaves up at the crown, bird watching, star gazing, etc you likely developed a short eyeball that can not easily see well close up (hyperopia).
Eye Muscles and Your Nervous System
Each of your eyes has muscles. The movements of your eye ball within your eye socket are controlled by 6 muscles. Inside the eye ball there several intrinsic muscles that are controlled by your nervous system. Two muscles open and close your pupil to change the amount of light entering your eye. Another intrinsic muscle, your ciliary muscle, changes the shape of the eyeball to shift your focal distance from near to far and back again.
When you are relaxed and calm, the pupil shrinks and the ciliary muscle pulls the lens to a rounder shape allowing short distance viewing.
When your ciliary muscle tightens, your eye’s lens gets rounder so you can see clearly at short distances. To see far away, you need your lens to flatten out a bit and the ciliary muscle to relax. Your parasympathetic nervous system makes the ciliary muscle contract or tighten. When you are calm, you do not need to see far away.
Your eyes need the same thing as the rest of your body – variety. Change your focal distance often by looking close in for a bit then far away for a bit then in the middle for a bit. Look left and look right! Look up – possibly more than you look down. Look at moving things as often as stationary thing. Variety!
On a practical level, examine your work and home environments. In your home or work office, put different size screens at different distances and switch between them often. Put your screen where you can look up and see out a window far away. Put objects on your left and your right (coffee to one side and water to the other?). Variety!
Migraine Inside Your Eyes
Migraine in the brain is a spasm in the blood vessels in the brain. A migraine headache is the response by the brain cells (and more) to the blood flow or blood pressure problem. A migraine can occur in the eyes instead and is usually not accompanied by a headache but the problem is the same. An ocular migraine is identified by vision changes that resemble seeing heat waves when there should not be any, sparkles and flashes often near the periphery of your vision. They can occur in one eye or in both.
Ocular migraines indicate a regulation problem in the nervous system, blood flow, nutrient availability, or all three. Stress is a common trigger which means that immediate use of de-stressing techniques will stop an ocular migraine before it causes even a tiny amount of damage to your eye.
6 Ways to Stop an Ocular Migraine
- Hydrate: If you are dehydrated, your blood will be thicker and harder to get through the tiny blood vessels of your eye. Grab your mineral water and get to work. Being dehydrated is more stressful for your cells (and eyes) than most people acknowledge.
- Relax and Breathe: If emotional or mental stress is your trigger, stopping to relax your mind and body will shift your nervous system and open up your blood vessels for better blood flow. Take 10 relaxing breaths, imagine your happy place, give yourself a hand massage, stretch with a 5 minute yoga flow routine. Find your best way.
- Support Your Blood Pressure: For many people that live with low blood pressure, heading off an ocular migraine involves boosting blood pressure. Take a walk, grab a cup of mold-free coffee (try Purity Coffee or Danger Coffee), breathe for energy, drink salty water (try LMNT electrolytes in your water).
- Change Your Light and View: Change the workload on your eyes by changing the lighting, open or partly close your eyes in order to change the light going in, change the distance of what you are looking at (look out a window if you were looking close up). How else can you reduce the stress/work on your eyes right now?
- Massage Your Head: Go ahead and reach up to your head and face and start massaging. You will take away tension in the muscles of your head, bring blood flow up to your head and eyes, distract your mind, shift your nervous system. If you have any of the fascial tools we use in Fascial Release Classes, grab your purple peanut or the soft orange balls and get to work.
- Support Your Blood Sugar: Has it been a while since you ate? If so, grab a bit of food and get that blood sugar up. Make it healthy! Was the last thing you ate sugary enough that you are in a low blood sugar state? If you are in a sugar-induced blood sugar crash – double up on that healthy part , include some protein, and let’s talk about your diet during your Metabolic Flexibility Plan Intro session!
I have had 2-3 ocular migraines occur while teaching and was able to instantaneously use at least 3 of these techniques for the good of my eyes.
Mitochondria and Tired Eyes
The operation of your eyes requires a lot of mitochondria. Mitochondria have two roles in the body:
- creators of the power that runs your body on the cellular level
- environmental sensors that detect the presence of toxins and other threats to their (and your) existence
If your mitochondria feel threatened, they will stop making energy and your ability to see will go down. If you are low on mitochondria, you will not have enough power generation capability to support good vision. Either way, you need plenty of happy mitochondria in order to see and think well.
Mitochondria require fuel in order to make the energy packets for the body called ATP. Your metabolism and diet fuel your mitochondria – unless you have a metabolic problem like insulin resistance, infection, traumatic brain damage, toxin overload, poor diet, and more!
5 Ways to Support Your Eye Mitochondria
- Red/Infrared light therapy sessions will boost the mitochondria’s desire to produce energy for you by reducing their stress levels
- Intermittent fasting will give you more hours in the day to be in a healing/protective mode and lower your overall inflammation level
- Detoxifying your body, gently and easily, will help all of your mitochondria to be happier including those in your eyes
- Check your magnesium levels to make sure you have enough to be both pain-free and high on eye energy – every unit of ATP needs a magnesium attached to its tail in order to make the ATP usable
- Lower your eye stress by using your other senses so your eyes can do less work – this is the main reason that my virtual yoga and fascial release classes are audio only – to let the eyes and brain rest while you actively lower your stress
Eye Centered Nutrition
Just like any other part of the body, your eyes need you to eat for optimal wellness. The plus for you is that when your eyes are healthy, so is your brain. Win-win! So what do eyes and brains need you to eat? A diet for ocular wellness incorportates macular carotinoids, protein, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, anti-inflammatory foods, and of course plenty of healthy water!
Eye Healthy Food Choices
- Vegetables and fruits with rich colors for their antioxidant properties
- Vegetables and fruits with orange and yellow colors for their macular carotinoids – specifically lutein and zeaxanthin [note: Within the eye Lutein:Meso-zeaxanthan:Zeaxanthin is found in the ratio of 10:10:2]
- Dark leafy greens for their macular carotinoid and other vitamin and mineral content
- Eggs for their lutein and zeaxanthin among all the other important nutrients in the egg yolk
- High quality protein in order to avoid the formation of cataracts
- Avoid gluten because it is so looks so close to the gut lining cells that a confused (dysregulated) immune system will break down your gut lining and create inflammation all the way up to your brain and eyes
Nutrition Goals for Great Eyes
The following nutrients are associated with reduced risk of age related macular degeneration and reduced cataract development:
- Vitamin A – a deficiency leads to dry eyes which means eyes are not protected by tears and they get gradually damaged
- Vitamin C – 300-500 mg – to prevent cataracts
- Vitamin E – 400 IU – for good blood flow, antioxidant properties, and so much more!
- Vitamin D -[blood level testing] – for its role in supporting the immune systems ability to regulate its inflammatory responses
- Lutein – 10 mg – supplements tend to source from marigolds, food sources are green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, etc), broccoli, basil, parsley
- Zeaxanthin – 2 mg – supplements tend to source from red peppers
- Meso-zeaxanthin – 10 mg – not known to be found in plant sources but is present in fish skin and is made in the retina from lutein
- Astaxanthin – this carotinoid comes from red algae and happily crosses the blood-brain barrier and the brain-retina barrier to get to where your eyes need it the most I get mine through either MacuGuard or Super Omega-3 Plus or both!
- Zinc – partners with Vitamin A, supports immune function, stimulates stomach acid production and thereby lowers inflammation
- Copper – important for protecting your optic nerve and energy production within the eye
- Omega-3s – If you bring your Omega-3 Index up into the optimal 8-12% range, your eyes will benefit as will your brain, heart, and so much more. To keep your Omega-3 intake high enough, Zen and Vitality offers a choice of 3 supplements Super Omega-3 Plus (which contains Astaxanthin), Citrus Omega-3 Squeeze, and Spirulina: A Superfood Algae.
- Protein – >100 g depending on body weight – This number comes from scientific studies about macular degeneration but it is in line with the protein targets associated with longevity in general. Aim for approximately 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight. If you are 160 lbs this means your daily target would be 112 grams of protein. If you weight 220 lbs your goal would be 154 grams. Wow that’s a lot right? Yes it is. So plan on having protein at every meal or snack and addressing any digestion issues so you can absorb it!
There are eye specific supplements that you can add to your diet if your goal is to more quickly and effectively boost your eye health as you improve your diet. At Zen and Vitality, I have chosen to carry both MacuGuard (a pill) and Digital Eye Support Gummies which both provide lutein and zeaxanthan. If your diet has been low in vitamins and minerals in general, consider adding Ultra Vitamin and BEAM Minerals while you work to improve your dietary consumption of all the nutrients your eyes need.
Nutritional Testing for Eye Wellness
How do you know if you are getting enough of these important eye nutrients? There are two ways.
- A 3 day food log using Cronometer will inform you as to your current nutrient status and help you assess the nutritive value of dietary changes. You will likely need to change your nutrient targets to match your new eye health goals!
- If you want to know the nutritional status inside your actual eyes, plan on a Hair Mineral Analysis. If your hair has the right amount of zinc and other minerals, so do your eyes. You won’t be sorry!
Optimal Light Exposure
Your eyes were designed with the expectation of natural sunlight as their primary source of light. Most modern lighting contains only a small set of wavelengths present in actual sunshine. Screens, devices, and “cool” temperature lights are blue light dominant which is stimulating to our eyes and brains. Firelight, sunrise, sunset, salt lamps, and “warm” temperature lights are red dominant which is calming and gentle to the eyes. Which type of light do you spend the most hours looking at every single day?
Changing the light that hits your eyes balls is an easy thing to do – probably easier than you realize! Which of these will you try first?
5 Changes to the Light Going Into Your Eyes
- Get some UV Light: Go outside in the actual sunlight first thing in the morning and get the full spectrum of sunshine onto your eyes for a few minutes. No glasses, no contacts, no windows between you and the sun. You will sleep better and see better. Take your morning wake up beverage with you so you can multitask. Feed your chickens, take a brief walk around your house, put out the trash can, get creative! You will get a gentle, eye supportive dose of ultraviolet light to help prevent the reduction of your ability to see far away.
- Stimulate the Mitochondria in Your Cones: Schedule yourself regular Red/Infrared Light Therapy sessions especially on days when you can not get outside for the real sunshine. If you are near La Plata, MD you can get in the lights at Zen and Vitality. A weekly 10 minute session might be enough to maintain your current vision level.
- Stimulate Your Rods: Dim your lights, screen brightness, and just turn off unneeded lights to minimize the amount of light you are forcing your eyes to process. Just use what is necessary for your personal vision for the task at hand. This use of dim light allows the rods in your eye’s retina to participate in your vision allowing the cones (that handle brighter light) to rest.
- See More Red Light: Wear special glasses that remove some blue light and enhance the red light – even if you do not need them to change your vision. These are eye protectors from junk light. The closer you get to sleep time, the less simulating blue light you want your eyes exposed to. You can use my affiliate link to purchase your own set of fancy glasses from TrueDark and current clients can rent a pair of TrueDark Twilight glasses to try out for a month before buying their own.
- Lower Blue Light: Shift your devices and screens to use more red light in the early morning and evening. This built in feature might be called Night Shift or Eye Comfort depending on your device type.
You might be interested in other posts with these tags:
- Beyond Carrots by Dr Britney Caruso – a practicing Opthamologist, a Fellow in Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine, and a Fellow in Metabolic and Nutritional Medicine – This book is in the Zen Lending Library
- Vision for Life by Meir Schneider