Eating for eye health is simple: the food that is good for our eyes is good for the whole of us, as our eyes are part of our body. This is common sense, but something we sometimes forget.
The common eye conditions, cataract and macular degeneration, are at least partly due to oxidative damage, also known as stress, and formerly known as ageing.
Knowing that our older population tend not to eat so well, studies were designed to see if supplementing the diet with vitamins and minerals could help reduce the incidence and progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
They have shown that a specific formula, called the AREDS formula (after the study) can help to reduce the progression of AMD when it is detected in its early to intermediate stages, but it does not seem to prevent it completely, or to have much effect when the disease is well established.
This formula contains: vitamin C, vitamin E, copper, zinc, lutein and zeaxanthin. All of these substances are found in a healthy diet, and supplements are only recommended for those with intermediate stages of AMD, while a healthy diet is recommended for everyone else. (1)
What is a healthy diet?
There are foods that can help reduce oxidative damage, and therefore help to slow or even possibly prevent the formation of cataracts and macular degeneration and – who knows? – they may even slow the ageing process in general.
These foods are the foods we used to eat, before food became ‘convenient’, i.e. processed and put in a packet. Anything that has been processed into any kind of packaging has had some of the life processed out of it, and has usually had sugar and some kind of preservatives processed into it.
Real food consists of:
meat (not necessarily lean, as fat is not as bad for us as we have been led to believe)
fish (preferably oily, as it contains more fish oil)
green leafy vegetables, which contains many vitamins and nutrients
nuts (not too many, as they are high in fat and carbohydrate and it is easy to eat too many and put on weight
seeds, which also contain vitamins and nutrients
fruit (not too much, as it is full of sugar, and fructose does not signal the body that you have eaten like glucose does, so there is no feedback mechanism to tell us to stop!)
Food as medicine
Eating well is a vital part of caring for our health, including our eye health. It is something that we have to do to stay alive, and that we usually do every day. The way we eat and what we eat can make a huge difference to the way our body functions and to the way we feel.
Eating high-carb, high-sugar, high-fat foods causes ups and downs in blood sugar and mood swings, and can lead to exhaustion and depression. Studies are showing that addressing the food that people with depression eat can have a significant effect on their mood. (2)
And caffeine and alcohol also affect our energy levels and moods, and have us reaching for more of the same as well as foods high in fat, sugar and salt, and so the cycle goes.
But there is much more to our health than food.
Life as medicine
How we live in general determines how healthy we are, or not. This includes:
how we see ourselves
how we feel about ourselves
how we care for ourselves in every way
how we eat
how we rest
how we move
how we work
how we play
how we are with other people – family, friends, workmates, strangers
how we feel about life
Life is not broken up into neat compartments that we can keep separate from each other, that do not affect each other.
It is all one life. And how we are in every aspect of our lives affects every other aspect, everyone and everything else, and the whole we live in. We cannot just live a certain way at work, and expect it not to affect our home life, or live in a certain way during our time ‘off’ and expect it to have no effect on our time ‘on’. We are moving around in this one body of ours, in every single moment of every single day. We take it with us, everywhere we go and how we treat it, affects everything we do.
Something worth thinking about perhaps, as you reach for the next whatever-it-is that you know you should not be eating or drinking, as it does not suit your body and help you to live your life in full. And an opportunity to consider why you are reaching for that thing… what it is offering you, why you need it, and if there is another way of dealing with that need.
And perhaps something to consider and inspire you to eat – and live – in a more healthy and caring, loving way, that you may build a body that can live a day in such a way that you inspire others to do the same, for that is true medicine.
Dr Anne Malatt is an eye specialist, or ophthalmologist. She trained as a medical doctor at the University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne Hospital for eight years, and then trained for a further five years at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital as a specialist in diseases and surgery of the eye. She undertook postgraduate research, and has a Master of Surgery degree from the University of Melbourne. She is a Fellow of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists and the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.
Anne has been in specialist public and private practice since 1992 and participates in continuing medical education, surgical audit and peer review programmes, to maintain and improve her clinical skills. As well as her commitment to professional development, she is committed to her development as a person and a member of the community, for she sees life as one whole, of which her work is a great part.