Eye Problems: an A-Z guide

By: 

ION Archives

Issue: 
Spring
Year of publication: 
2001

Sight must be one of our most precious gifts, yet many of us tend to take it for granted until something goes wrong. Hilda Glickman MA BPhil Dip.ION looks at the causes of common eye conditions and provides nutritional advice for their management

THE PROCESS OF SEEING IS A COMPLEX MULTI-STEP PROCEDURE that occurs continuously at amazing speed. Anything that interferes with this
process can create problems. Good food is vitally important. When we feed our bodies, we also feed our eyes. So much so that a deficiency of just one nutrient can lead to a wide range of eye conditions. As some eye complaints are irreversible, prevention is the key to maintaining good eyesight.

Problems elsewhere in the body can affect the eyes. For example high blood pressure can result in thickening of the blood vessels inside the eyes. This can cause loss of vision or even blindness. Diabetes can also contribute to blindness due to haemorrhaging in the retina. Surprisingly, tooth infections can affect the eyes because of common nerves and blood vessels.

Besides consuming a nutritious diet, in order to promote good eyesight, other factors to consider are too much intense, close work; unprotected exposure to ultraviolet light and the use of various prescription drugs, some of the side effects of which can cause eye damage. Those who wear contact lenses should also take precautions due to increased risk of injury and infection.

Below is an A-Z guide to common eye conditions and their management.

 

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BLOODSHOT EYES

This occurs when the small blood vessels on the surface of the eyes become congested with blood, resulting in inflammation It can be caused by eyestrain, fatigue, alcohol intake, poor diet or deficiencies of the vitamins ribo.avin (B2) and pyridoxine (B6), and the amino acids histidine, lysine, or phenylalanine.

Bloodshot Eyes Nutritional Therapy Recommendations

SUPPLEMENT DAILY DOSE RATIONALE FOR USE
Vitamin A 25,000iu Essential for proper eye function (contra-indicated during pregnancy).
Vitamin B complex 100mg Deficiencies have been associated with bloodshot eyes.
Eyebright Prepare herb as a tea and apply externally (ensure the tea is cool before use) Helps sooth irritated eyes.

 

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CATARACTS

Cataracts occur when the lens of the eye thickens and becomes clouded or opaque. This is caused by damage to the protein structure of the lens similar to the changes in the protein structure of egg whites when cooked. Cataracts are extremely common and surgery for this condition is the most frequently performed operation in the United States. Prevention is therefore vital as most people over the age of 60 show signs of cataract formation. Once formed it is unlikely that nutrition can reverse the damage. Symptoms include gradual, painless loss of vision and the appearance of halos around electric lights.

The major cause of cataract development is free radical damage from heated oils or rancid fats, smoking and exposure to ultraviolet light. Calcium or cholesterol deposits can also be a cause by slowing down the blood circulation to the eyes. The inability to break down galactose in milk can also initiate the condition. Galactose increases the need for ribo.avin (vitamin B2), an important vitamin in the prevention of cataracts. Too much of this sugar can result in the vitamin being deficient One study found that young rats fed a diet containing 30% galactose developed nuclear lens opacity after 30 days.(1) Many cataract sufferers appear to have consumed large amounts of dairy products and sugar during their lives.

A recent Blue Mountain eye study in Sydney, Australia, found that increased risk of cataract development was associated with the consumption of salt and fat (butter).(2) It was also noted that the nucleus of the lens of the eye is extremely sensitive to nutrient deficiencies, in particular protein, vitamins A, niacin (B3), thiamine (B1) and ribo.avin (B2).(3)

Cataracts Nutritional Therapy Recommendations

SUPPLEMENT DAILY DOSE RATIONALE FOR USE
Vitamin A 25,000iu Essential for proper eye function (contra-indicated during pregnancy)
Vitamin C
Vitamin E
Selenium 2-6g in divided doses
400iu
200µg These nutrients are associated with a reduced risk of cataract development.(4,5,6) Vitamin C activates vitamin E, which in turn activates glutathione, another important antioxidant. Selenium and vitamin E function synergistically. Studies have shown the selenium content in the aqueous humor of individuals with cataracts was only 15% of the selenium level in those with no cataract formation. However, hydrogen peroxide levels were up to 25 times higher.(7) Therefore low levels of selenium are considered to be a major contributory factor. Vitamin E has been shown to be protective. One study found that in those who took vitamin E supplements on a regular basis, the risk of cataract development was reduced by about half.(8)
Vitamin B Complex 50mg twice a day Required for intracellular eye metabolism.
Grape seed extract 100mg twice a day Contains oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs), a group of nutrients that belong to the bioflavanoid family. It is a powerful antioxidant.
Glutathione

 

 

 

 

N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) Taking NAC, a precursor to glutathione, has been shown to be more effective in increasing glutathione levels than taking glutathione itself.

500mg This antioxidant nutrient is found in high concentrations in the lens of the eye. Levels are reduced in nearly all forms of cataracts.(9)
Bilberry 240 to 480mg in individual doses (standardised to contain 25% anthocyanosides) Contains a rich source of the bioflavanoid complex anthocyanosides. These help to remove toxic chemicals from the retina of the eye and protect it from oxidative damage. (10)

 

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CONJUNCTIVITIS (PINKEYE)

Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the membrane that lines the eyelids and covers most of the white of the eye. Symptoms include swelling and a bloodshot appearance. The presence of pus often causes the eyelids to stick together if closed for long periods, such as when asleep. Causes include bacterial infection, allergies, contact lens solution, chlorine or make-up. If the condition is virus related it can be extremely contagious. If caused by a bacterial infection, treatment is usually with antibiotics.

Conjunctivitis (Pinkeye) Nutritional Therapy Recommendations

SUPPLEMENT DAILY DOSE RATIONALE FOR USE
Vitamin A 25,000iu
Essential for proper eye function (contra-indicated during pregnancy)
Vitamin C 2-6g in divided doses Encourages healing and is anti-inflammatory
Zinc 50mg Enhances immune response.

 

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DRY EYES

This is a common complaint, especially in those who wear contact lenses. It occurs when the tear ducts do not produce enough fluid to keep the eyes moist. Dry eyes have been associated with a lack of vitamin A (the most common cause), drugs such as beta-blockers, marijuana, and the antidepressant imipramine. A lack of essential fatty acids can cause the tear glands to wither. Sicca syndrome, a condition where the salivary and tear glands fail to function properly, also results in dry eyes.

Dry Eyes Nutritional Therapy Recommendations

SUPPLEMENT DAILY DOSE RATIONALE FOR USE
Vitamin A 25,000iu Essential for proper eye function (contra-indicated during pregnancy)
Evening Primrose Oil

Fish Oil 1000mg two to three times a day

1000mg These oils are a good source of essential fatty acids and help lubricate the eyes.

 

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FLOATERS

Floaters are experienced as small specks that move slowly before the eyes. The condition is caused by bits of cellular debris that cast shadows over the retina. Most cases are considered benign and become less noticeable over time. However, if a large number of them appear suddenly, a GP should be consulted, as it may be a sign of retinal detachment development.

Floaters Nutritional Therapy Recommendations

SUPPLEMENT DAILY DOSE RATIONALE FOR USE
Vitamin A 50,000iu Essential for proper eye function (contra-indicated during pregnancy).

Apple pectin As directed on label Chelates heavy metals that can circulate through the eyes.

 

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Glaucoma has many causes but is closely related to poor nutrition, diabetes, high blood pressure, stress and adrenal exhaustion GLAUCOMA

The term glaucoma describes a group of eye conditions that involve increased pressure within the eyeball. The pressure can damage the retina, destroy the optic nerve and ultimately cause blindness. Symptoms may not manifest until very late in the condition, so as it is a major cause of blindness, regular eye tests are important in those over the age of 60. The most pronounced symptoms include the eyes loss of ability to adjust to darkness, tunnel vision, chronic low-grade headaches and the appearance of halos or rainbow rings around electric lights. Acute glaucoma causes extreme pain, reddened eyes and a fixed, dilated pupil. Such cases require emergency medical treatment.

Glaucoma has many causes but is closely related to poor nutrition, diabetes, high blood pressure, stress and adrenal exhaustion. Diabetics are at greater risk because of the high glucose content present in the blood. Excess glucose can become attached to the red blood cells and prevent them from delivering oxygen to the cells in the eye. Research also suggests that allergenic substances can exacerbate glaucoma, so individuals should be tested for food allergies/intolerances and suspected foods omitted from the diet.

Glaucoma Nutritional Therapy Recommendations

 

SUPPLEMENT DAILY DOSE RATIONALE FOR USE
Vitamin C 1-6g in divided doses Important for the integrity of collagen and can significantly reduce elevated pressure within the eye.(11) Taking vitamin C to bowel tolerance level has been found to be effective. (12) Vitamin C has also helped some patients who were not helped by drugs. However, it is not a cure and long-term usage is recommended.
Rutin 20mg three times a day This bioflavonoid (derived from buckwheat) has been found to be able to reduce eye pressure.
Alpha lipoic acid 150mg Taken for one month this nutrient has been shown to improve visual function.(13)

Magnesium 245mg Can reduce intraocular pressure in the same way as certain drugs can block the entry of calcium, relaxing and dilating the blood vessels. Because of this magnesium has been called “nature’s calcium channel blocker”. One study found improvement after four weeks with 245mg of magnesium (although results were not statistically signi.cant).(14)

 

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MACULAR DEGENERATION

The macula is the area of the retina where images are focused and is responsible for .ne vision. Degeneration of the macula is a major cause of severe loss of vision and later blindness. It affects about 10% of the population and most people who live long enough will be affected to some extent. Prevention or treatment at an early stage of development is vital. Symptoms include blurred vision, distortion of straight lines into wavy lines and blind spots. Free radical damage from smoking and sunlight, and arteriosclerosis in the small arteries of the retina (so that the blood supply to the retina is impaired) are the main causes.

Macular Degeneration Nutritional Therapy Recommendations

 

 

SUPPLEMENT DAILY DOSE RATIONALE FOR USE
Vitamin A 25,000iu Essential for proper eye function (contra-indicated during pregnancy).
Lycopene 5mg One study found that individuals with low levels of the carotenoid lycopene were twice as likely to have age-related macular degeneration.(16)
Lutein

Zeaxanthin 5-20mg

12mg The carotenoid lutein was found to be even more important than beta-carotene.16 Research has also suggested that zeaxanthin may be one of the most preventative agents against macular degeneration.(17) Lutein and zeaxanthin are concentrated in the very part of the retina which is affected by degeneration. In fact the macula owes its yellow colouring to the high levels of lutein and zeaxanthin contained therein. Zeaxanthin is concentrated in the macula, whereas lutein is dispersed throughout the entire retina.
Zinc 45mg This mineral is necessary to produce enzymes required for normal vision. A double blind trial found that zinc prevented vision loss in sufferers by 42%. (18)
Gingko Biloba 120-240mg in individual doses (standardized extract) May help to increase the blood flow to the retina in the early stages of macular degeneration. It is also a free radical scavenger.(19)
Bilberry 240-480mg in individual doses (standardised to contain 25% anthocyanosides) Contains a rich source of the bioflavonoid complex anthocyanosides. This can help strengthen capillaries and reduce haemorrhaging in the retina.
Grape seed extract 150-300mg twice a day Contains oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs), a group of nutrients that belong to the bioflavonoid family. It is a powerful antioxidant.
 

 

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NIGHT BLINDNESS

Night blindness should not be taken literally. It merely refers to the inability to see as well at night as during the day.

Night Blindness Nutritional Therapy Recommendations

SUPPLEMENT DAILY DOSE RATIONALE FOR USE
Vitamin A 25,000iu Vitamin A is necessary for the formation of visual purple, the substance which allows the eyes to adjust from bright light to darkness.
Zinc 15-30mg This mineral is needed to produce retinal dehydrogenase, an enzyme that helps vitamin A work in the eye.(20)
Bilberry 240-480mg in individual doses (standardised to contain 25% anthocyanosides) Contains a rich source of the bioflavonoid complex anthocyanosides, which enhance the regeneration of rhodopsin, a purple pigment used by the rods in the eye for night vision.
 

 

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RETINOPATHY

Retinopathy is a general term given to disorders associated with damage to the retina of the eye. It is a serious condition, which can result in blindness. Causes include diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking and other forms of oxidative damage. Diabetic retinopathy occurs when the capillaries to the retina leak fluid or blood, damaging the rod and cone cells of the eye. New capillaries begin to form which interferes with vision. Because of this, all diabetics should have annual eye examinations. Controlling blood sugar levels is very important. Research has shown that type 1 diabetics who were able to control their blood sugar slowed the pace of retinopathy by about 60%.

Retinopathy Nutritional Therapy Recommendations

 

SUPPLEMENT DAILY DOSE RATIONALE FOR USE
Vitamin A
Vitamin C
Vitamin E 25,000iu
2-6g in divided doses
400iu Retinopathy is associated with free radical damage so antioxidant nutrients are considered beneficial (Vitamin A is contra-indicated during pregnancy).
Quercetin 400mg three times a day Can inhibit the enzyme aldose reductase which contributes to the condition. This enzyme is responsible for the conversion of blood sugar to sorbitol, which is implicated in the development of diabetic complications such as retinopathy.(21)
Bilberry 240-480mg in individual doses (standardised to contain 25% anthocyanosides) Contains a rich source of the bioflavonoid complex anthocyanosides, which can strengthen the integrity of eye tissue and improve circulation to the eyes.
Gingko biloba 60mg twice a day (standardised extract) Can enhance blood circulation and protects the retina from free radical damage.(19)

 

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SELF-HELP TIPS FOR MAINTAINING HEALTHY EYES

Because free radical damage is a main cause of eye problems, the consumption of an antioxidant rich diet is essential.

Include:

Fresh vegetables and fruit high in antioxidants such as broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, watercress, kale, squash, black grapes, blackcurrants strawberries, raspberries, etc.
Avocados, asparagus, watermelon and oranges. These are high in the powerful antioxidant, glutathione.
Carrot juice, which is a good source of beta-carotene, can help prevent or alleviate some eye problems.
Foods high in lycopene such as tomato products.
Bilberries. This fruit is high in the bioflavonoid complex anthocyanosides, which protect both the lens and retina from oxidative damage.
Foods high in lutein and zeaxanthin such as spinach, kale, corn, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and paprika.
Foods high in zinc such as pumpkin seeds, sun.ower seeds, herring, mushrooms, soya beans, eggs, wheat germ and turkey. Zinc may help reduce vision loss, as it is needed for the functioning of several enzymes in the vascular coating of the eye.
Oily fish such as herring, mackerel, sardines, salmon and tuna. This bene.ts the whole of the vascular system including the vessels which supply the eyes. The fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is crucial for the formation of the retina in the foetus and infant. In fact the retina has the highest concentration of DHA of any tissue in the body.
Drinking at least 1.5 litres of filtered, distilled or mineral water on a daily basis is essential.

Reduce: (the following have been noted to aggravate certain eye conditions)

Fried foods and trans fatty acids
Dairy produce
Sugar and re.ned foods
Salt
Alcohol

COMMON SYMPTOMS ASSOCIATED WITH EYE CONDITIONS AND THEIR POSSIBLE CAUSES

SYMPTOMS POSSIBLE CAUSE
Bulging eyes Thyroid problems or vitamin E deficiency

Floaters (seeing large numbers) Detached retina development
Dry Eyes Deficiency of vitamin A or essential fatty acids
Dark circles under eyes Allergies
Red, swollen and watery eyes Allergies
Burning eyes, sensitivity to light, or “gritty” eyes Vitamin B2 deficiency
Droopy eyes Myasthenia gravis (a disorder in which the muscles of the eyes weaken)
Yellowing of the eyes Jaundice, hepatitis or gallbladder disease
Blurred vision, watery eyes Candidiasis
Periodic blurring of vision High blood pressure
A drastic difference in pupil size Possible tumour development in the body
Bilot’s spots (white, elevated, sharply outlined patches on the whites of the eye) Deficiency of vitamin A or protein

 

Note

As vitamins and minerals work in synergy, taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement in addition to isolated nutrients is recommended. Supplementing individual nutrients may result in biochemical imbalances. Before embarking on a supplement regime for the treatment of eye conditions, it is advisable to consult a nutritional therapist or other health professional.

 

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REFERENCES

Varma SD et al Attenuation of galactose-induced cataract by pyruvate, Free Radical Research, 1999 Apr; 30(4):253-63.
5 Cumming RG et al. Dietary sodium intake and cataract: the Blue Mountain Eye Study. American Journal of Epidemiology Mar 2000 15; 15 (6): 624-6.
Cumming RG et al Diet and cataract, American Journal of Epidemiology, Mar 2000; 107 (3):450-6.
Bravetti G. Preventive medical treatment of senile cataract with vitamin E and anthocyanosides: clinical reviewuation. Ann Ottamol Clin Ocul 1989; 115:109.
Jacques PF, Chylack LT Jr. Epidemiologic evidence of a role for the antioxidant vitamins and carotenoids in cataract prevention. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1991; 53: 352S–55S.
Robertson J McD, Donner AP, Trevithick JR. A possible role for vitamins C and E in cataract prevention. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1991; 53: 346S-51S.
Swanson A and Truesdale A, Elemental analysis in normal and cataractous human lens tissue, Biochem Biophys Res Comm 45 (1971): 1488-96.
Leske, MC, Chylack LT et al Antioxidant vitamins and nuclear opacities: the longitudinal study of cataracts Ophthalmology 1998 May; 105 (5): 831-67.
Reddy VN Glutathione and its function in the lens-An overview. Exp Eye Research 1990; 150771-78.
Salvayre R, Braquet P, et al. Comparison of the scavenger effect of bilberry anthocyanosides with various .avonoids. Proceedings of the international Bio.avonoids Symposium, Munich 1981 437-42.
Ringsdorf WM Jr, Cheraskin E, Ascorbic acid and glaucoma: a review. Journal of Holistic Medicine 1981; 3: 167-72.
Boyd HH Eye pressure lowering effect of vitamin C. Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine 1995; 10:165-168.
Filina AA, et al. Davydova NG, Endrikhovski SN, et al Lipoic acid as a metabolic therapy of open-angle glaucoma. Vestn Oftalmo 1995; 111:6-8.
Gaspar AZ et al The in.uence of magnesium on visual .eld and peripheral vasospasm in glaucoma. Opthalmologica 1995; 209:11-13.
McGuire R Fish oil cuts lower ocular pressure Medical Tribune 1991:25 August.
Mares-Perlman et al. Serum antioxidants and age-related macular degeneration in a population based case control study Arch Opthalmol 113 1995: 1518-23.
Bone RA et al Distribution of macular pigment components zeaxanthin and lutein, in human retina. Methods Enzymol 1992:213:360-66.
Newsome DA et al. Oral zinc in macular degeneration, Arch Opthalmol 1988 :106:192-98.
Ferrandi C. et al eds: Ginkgo Biloba (EGB 761) as a Free radical Scavenger, Elsevier, Paris, 1993.
Anonymous. Zinc – responsive night blindness in sickle cell anaemia. Nutr Rev 1982; 40:175-77.
Varma D Inhibition of aldose reductase by .avonoids: Possible attenuation of diabetic complications. Progr Clin Biol Res 1986; 213: 343-58.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Balch JF and Balch PA, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Avery, 1997.
Erasmus, U. Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill, Alive Books, 1993.Murray M and Pizzorno J, Encyclopaedia of Natural Medicine,Prima, 1998.
Golan R, Optimal Wellness, Ballantine, 1995.Kirschmann J et al, Nutrition Almanac, McGraw-Hill, 1996.

Hilda Glickman is a Dip.ION nutritional therapist practisingin Pinner, Hatch End and Northwood. She can be contacted on t: 020 8428 0542.

 

Keywords: 
HEALTH CONDITIONS
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