How Healthy Am I Really? How Much Does It Have To Do With The Health Of My Eye?

The patient’s role and responsibility in ocular health.

I recently got back from an optometric meeting listening to some great lectures from very knowledgeable speakers. One of the topics was about nutrition and health and how it affects the eye. This topic seemed to find its way into every lecture in some way or another and its importance in preventing disease, maintaining health as well as improving disease and/or reducing progression. One company at our vendor booth had a machine to measure our nutritional health score. I got a C+. Yikes, I have some work to do. What can we all do to get our “wellness score” better?

Eat better, sleep more, decrease stress levels, don’t smoke/quit smoking and get exercise – that’s it, right? Why is it so important and how does it impact the health of our eyes?

Exercise and nutrition have a very importance role in ocular disease. Simply put… the more we exercise and the better our nutrition is, the better it is for our eyes.

We as Americans lead the world in lifestyle-preventable chronic diseases. The CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion states that 6 in 10 adults in the US have a chronic disease and 4 in 10 have two or more chronic diseases. They list risk factor behaviors like smoking, poor diets, lack of physical activity and excessive alcohol use as causative factors.

The effect of smoking on the eye

Smoking has been shown to increase the risk of dry eye, cataract, glaucoma, retinal vascular disease (retinal vein occlusions), and macular degeneration. When we smoke, we are introducing toxins into our system. It influences microcirculation and ocular blood flow and produces free oxidative material which are toxic to the eye. The good news is – if we stop smoking, we can start to reverse the increased risk of eye disease. Some studies have shown years after patients stop smoking, the risk for macular degeneration progression reduces as well as progression of glaucoma was slowed.

The effect of our diet on the eye

The western diet of very pro-inflammatory. And inflammation plays a HUGE role in almost every ocular disease. We need to shift our diets to more anti-inflammatory to improve our ocular health. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to contain many anti-inflammatory foods to improve our over all health. The Mediterranean diet consists of fish, olive oil, nuts, seeds, darkly colored fruits and vegetables. Studies have shown a positive impact on macular degeneration in patients that follow the Mediterranean diet.

Foods we need to limit include poly-unsaturated fats, high glycemic index foods, high- fat dairy products, processed foods, red meats, sugar, energy drinks and refined grains.

The effect of exercise on the eye

Exercise increases blood circulation throughout the body including improving ocular blood flow. Studies have shown a reduction in intraocular pressure with exercise as well as reduced risk for developing glaucoma and a slowing of visual field progression in glaucoma patients. This increase in blood flow

through exercise is also beneficial in reducing the risk of retinal disease like retinal vein occlusions, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration by improving control of systemic hypertension and diabetes.

How do we improve our “wellness score”? We need to improve our health by reducing the things that cause inflammation in our bodies. These include our diet, lack of physical activity, stress, lack of sleep, excessive alcohol, and smoking. We need to be sure we are consuming enough vitamins, minerals, omegas, carotenoids/antioxidants and/or getting a quality supplement added to our diet. As I learned after having my wellness score measured and learning about nutrition and the eye, we all need to take responsibility in our own daily lifestyle choices to improve and maintain good health.