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Spotlight on eyes: maintaing macular health

Spotlight on eyes: maintaining macular health

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Naturopath Kate Ferguson outlines the tools you need to help maintain macular health.

Have you ever wondered how we see the things we see? Our eyes are like our very own inbuilt camera, with more than just one working part capturing the images all around us.

The macula is one such part of our eyes that is used to record these images and so it’s important that we look after it.

The macula

Our eyes function like a camera. Light is allowed in the eye by the iris, focused by the cornea and lens, cornea and humors onto the retina. The brain then interprets images from impulses received from the retina.

At the centre of the retina sits the macula. The macula is responsible for central, detailed vision such as reading and distinguishing people’s faces. Light sensing cells in the macula, called photoreceptors, convert light into electrical impulses. These impulses are transferred to the brain via the optic nerve. If these photoreceptors in the macula aren’t kept in optimal health it can increase the risk of loss to this central vision.

Risk factors for poor macular health

Being over the age of 50 and having a family history of degenerative conditions that affect macular health are two of the main risk factors for poor macular health. And so while we can’t control these factors we can certainly influence our macular health by:

  • Not smoking - if you smoke you are three times more likely to suffer from degeneration of and damage to the macula. 
  • Maintaining a healthy weight- being overweight can lead to an increase in the risk of poor macular health.

Antioxidants for macular defence

Antioxidants are now fairly well known for their role in helping to prevent free radical damage.
  • Lutein & zeaxanthin are carotenoid nutrients concentrated in the macular region of the eye which work in two ways to protect eye health. As antioxidants they may help to prevent against free radical damage. And as essential pigments for the eyes they filter out harmful UV light. Foods such as spinach, other green vegetables and corn are great source of these antioxidants.
  • Selenium is a component of the antioxidant glutathione peroxidase which may help to prevent free radical damage to cell membranes. Found in foods such as Brazil nuts, garlic and wheat germ, selenium also supports the function of vitamins C & E.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish such as salmon, tuna, anchovies and sardines are needed for optimal macular health. Omega-3s may help to maintain cell membrane health and are found in high levels in the retina. Eat 2 to 3 serves of oily fish per week to get the required amount of these essential fats to help support macula health.

Cover up

Just as we need to slip, slop, slap to prevent sun damage to our skin, we need to protect our eyes from harmful UV light. Accumulated UV exposure can increase the risk of macular damage. So grab a pair of well fitting sunnies that provide UV protection and meet Australian standards and wear a broad-rimmed hat to decrease the amount of light hitting your eyes.

References available on request

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Dear Erin,
Optic nerve atrophy is damage to the optic nerve and may be caused by conditions such as poor blood flow.
Shock, toxic substances, radiation and trauma can also cause damage to the optic nerve as can diseases such as glaucoma.
It is important to determine the underlying cause of optic nerve atrophy in order to prevent further loss of vision.
Unfortunately, Blackmores do not have a product specifically for ocular atrophy and as this would be considered a serious eye condition, we strongly recommend that you remain under the supervision of your opthamologist.and regularly update him/her with your symptoms.
Generally speaking, nutrients for eye health would include zinc, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin.
Furthermore, ensuring that you eat predominately whole unprocessed foods including fish, leafy green vegetables and a wide variety of coloured fruits will also help to keep you and your eyes in the best health possible.
Some articles that may be of help:
I trust this has been a helpful Erin and I wish you all the best with your health.
Kindest regards, Rebekah (a Blackmores naturopath)
Do you have a product for optic atrophy in senior age group?
Anonymous 08 Jan 2014