Heart Health = Eye Health

You’ve probably heard a lot of news about eating right for a healthy heart—focusing on a diet low in fat and abundant in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. But did you know that the same nutrients are also good for your eyes? It’s a natural connection, as your eyes rely on tiny arteries for oxygen and nutrients, just as the heart relies on much larger arteries. Being aware of your diet and keeping your arteries in good shape offers a two-for one benefit.

Recent studies, known as the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) published in October of 2001 and a follow-up, (AREDS2), published in May of 2013, zeroed in on the effects of certain antioxidants, including vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, zinc, lutein and zeaxanthin on eye health. The AREDS studies were aimed at people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD)—a disease that takes away the detail and color at the very center of your vision, blocking out letters and faces. The studies concluded that patients with moderate and advanced AMD could benefit from antioxidant supplements. “If you don’t have AMD, we don’t see a need to take high-dose supplements, notes Dr. Paul Bernstein of the Moran Eye Center, a site for the national AREDS2 study, “but it is always wise to focus on a good, heart and eye-healthy diet.”

Shopping List

Think brightly colored fruits and vegetables when you shop for produce. The more vibrant and darker the colors, the better. 

  • Leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, kale, broccoli, and chard are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, as are peaches, persimmons, mangoes, and papaya. And, don’t forget eggs.
  • Carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots and cantaloupe deliver lots of beta-carotene.
  • Citrus fruits—oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, and lemons are high in vitamin C
  • Cold water fish, such as salmon and tuna are high in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Oysters, lean red meat, poultry and fortified cereals are great sources of zinc.

February is AMD Awareness Month

AMD affects 11 million people in the U.S. alone, a number expected to double by 2020. It runs in families, and there is no cure and currently no way to prevent it.  However, the AREDS2 study group recommends antioxidant supplements for patients with moderate and advanced AMD.

These supplements are widely available at drugstores, grocery stores, health food stores, or on-line. Choose supplements with the following specifications:

  • 80 milligrams of zinc oxide (other forms such as zinc acetate may be acceptable and doses as low as 25 mg may be OK)
  • 2 milligrams of cupric oxide (to counteract copper deficiency induced by the zinc)
  • 500 milligrams of vitamin C
  • 400 international units (IU) of vitamin E (do not take higher doses)
  • 10 milligrams of lutein (higher doses may be acceptable)
  • 2 milligrams of zeaxanthin (higher doses may be acceptable)

Skip the herbal supplements for AMD

According to Dr. Bernstein, “Herbal compounds (bilberry, ginkgo biloba, eyebright, etc.) have been widely promoted by the supplement industry to people at risk for AMD. No high-quality scientific studies have been performed to support their claims of effectiveness, so we are unable to offer any recommendations for or against their use.”

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