transparent lens to the retina, where it is changed into nerve signals that
are sent to the brain. The lens must be clear for the retina to receive a sharp
image. If the lens is cloudy from a cataract, the image will be blurred.
Cataracts can be caused by clumps of protein that reduce the sharpness
of the image reaching the retina or by a general changing of the color of the
lens from clear to yellowish/brownish. Most age-related cataracts develop
from protein clumps. Cataracts tend to “grow” slowly, so vision gets worse
gradually. Seeing may become more difficult. Vision may get duller or blurrier.
If lens discoloration is the cause, you may not be able to identify blues and
purples, but vision will remain clear.
Many Americans aren’t waiting for symptoms to escalate; they are using
natural nutritional and herbal supplements to protect their eyes from the
effects of aging.
Studies using antioxidant vitamins and other nutrients that fight free-radical
damage have shown excellent results. A 2001 U.S. National Eye Institute study
of 5,000 people between the ages of 55 and 80 showed a 25 percent reduction
in the risk of developing advanced AMD through the use of an antioxidant-and-zinc combination with vitamins C and E as major components.
Lutein and zeaxanthin
Lutein and zeaxanthin—carotenoids, or plant components, known for
their color and antioxidant capacity—are found in the macular region of
the eye. The body can’t make lutein or zeaxanthin, so supplementation is
recommended to protect the eyes from ultraviolet light—a leading cause
of cataracts—and free-radical damage.
A Tufts University study in 2004 showed that generous intakes of lutein
and zeaxanthin reduced the risk of macular degeneration by as much as 40
percent and the risk of cataracts by up to 20 percent. While no recommended
daily allowance currently exists for lutein, positive effects have been seen at
levels of 6 mg per day.
Blueberries, bilberries and eyebright
Blueberries and bilberries (huckleberries) are extremely high in antho-cyanidin bioflavonoids—the blue pigments in fruit, which have natural health
benefits, especially the ability to strengthen capillaries.
Bioflavonoids, such as those in blueberries, are essential for the proper
absorption and use of vitamin C and other antioxidants, and should be part
of a lifetime regimen to help prevent loss of sight.
Bioflavonoids also help maintain collagen, the intercellular “glue” that
strengthens connective tissues throughout the body. Bilberry jam was fed
to fighter pilots in the Second World War to enhance their night vision.
Eyebright is a European wild plant used since the Middle Ages to treat
eye irritation. It has antibiotic and astringent properties that tighten membranes and mucus surrounding the eyes, which can strengthen and improve
circulation. Rich in vitamins A and C, eyebright also contains tannins that
help reduce inflammation. A