Given how much we depend on our eyes (pretty much every waking minute!), we often don't give them the care and attention they deserve. But it's possible to protect your eyes and improve vision just through easy nutritional and lifestyle changes. Exercising regularly can lower your risk for age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. Getting children to spend some time outdoors can even lower their risk of developing myopia. Eating black currants, which are loaded with protective antioxidant phytochemicals, can help your eyes adapt to the dark and reduce eye strain. Ayurveda also provides many natural solutions to improve eyesight and treat eye problems such as conjunctivitis.
Some will say the eyes are the windows to the soul. To the more science-minded, they’re an incredibly complex organ that gives us the gift of vision. Either way, most of us tend to take our eyes for granted. Just imagine your world if you lost your sight – even just reading this passage on this very screen would be impossible, not to mention seeing the expression of a loved one … or catching a gorgeous sunrise. Fortunately, several easy and natural ways can help protect our eyes – and even improve our vision.
Food For Your Eyes
- Anthocyanins – phytochemicals with antioxidant properties found in berries like black currant, bilberry, and blueberry – are especially good for the eyes. Animal studies have found that anthocyanins can stimulate the regeneration of rhodopsin, a protein in the retina that can help you see in low light.1 Other research has shown that having black currant anthocyanoside concentrate can help the eyes adapt to the dark. It can also give relief from temporary problems with vision, say from working with video display terminals for a long period of time, and prevent or relieve eye strain.2 Given that so many of us spend a large part of the day staring at a screen, snacking on some black currants may not be such a bad idea!
- Some carotenoids like lutein, zeaxanthin, and lycopene can ward off eye disease. Found in spinach, mustard greens, and kale, zeaxanthin and lutein may play a protective role against cataract, age-related macular degeneration, and retinitis pigmentosa.3 Meanwhile, lycopene – found in guava, watermelon, and tomatoes – may help prevent cataracts.4
- Ayurveda sees many inflammatory and vision-related eye problems as rooted in pitta imbalance. Having 1–2 teaspoons of ghee or clarified butter every day can help balance pitta and improve eyesight.5
- Triphala, a herbal formula containing the fruits black myrobalan (haritaki), beleric myrobalan (bibhitaki), and Indian gooseberry (amalaki), can be useful for improving weak eyesight. Take 1 tablespoon of it twice daily with milk. Triphala ghee – made with ghee, triphala, Malabar nut (vasa), and false daisy (bhringraj) – works as a tonic for the eyes and can also help treat conjunctivitis.6
- One classic Ayurvedic remedy to promote good vision, especially in children, includes two grated carrots cooked in milk with one ground cardamom pod and five ground almonds, taken daily.7
Exercise For Your Eyes
Exercise can help improve your overall health in many ways, from protecting your heart to improving your memory. So it’s no surprise that it can benefit your eyes, too.
- Exercise can be helpful to people who have glaucoma, which can damage the optic nerve and cause the loss of vision. Increased intraocular pressure (the fluid pressure inside the eyes) can be one cause of glaucoma. Moderate physical exercise (which can be as little as taking a 15–20 minute walk three times a week) can lower this pressure and enhance blood flow to the optic nerve and retina. Do keep in mind, though, if you stop exercising, your intraocular pressure will go back to its previous level.8 Another reason to keep with a regular workout routine!
- A large study that looked at the relationship between being physically inactive and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – a condition where a part of the retina deteriorates and causes loss of vision – found that exercising can lower your chance of getting AMD. After accounting for risk factors like age, weight, and cholesterol levels, it was found that people who walked 2 miles a day, three times a week, had a 70% lower chance of developing AMD.9
- Because exercise can help you manage conditions like diabetes better, it also lowers the risk of developing complications like diabetic retinopathy (where the retina gets damaged due to diabetes), which is the major cause of vision loss in adults of working age.10
- Visual problems due to misalignment of the eyes can sometimes be corrected through eye exercises. When the eyes point in different directions (strabismus), the brain stops recognizing images from the misaligned eye, which can lead to what is known as a lazy eye (amblyopia). Putting a patch over the dominant eye can help strengthen the amblyopic eye by forcing it to work harder.11
- Yoga also incorporates certain eye exercises which might be helpful. Try moving your eyeballs up and done without blinking – think about looking at a clock in front of you and tracing a line between the 12 and 6. After about 10 repetitions of this exercise, rub the palms of your hands together and cup your eyes so you can feel the warmth seep through (palming). You can follow this by moving your eyeballs horizontally (from 9 to 3) and diagonally (from 2 to 7 and 11 to 4). These exercises may help relieve the extra pressure that we put on muscles when looking at nearby objects, like a book or computer screen.12
Take Your Eyes Outside
Spending time outdoors might be an easy way of preventing nearsightedness (myopia). Research shows that the risk of being myopic drops by 2% for each additional hour per week that children spend outdoors. One reason could be that children who spend more time outdoors also spend less time inside doing things like studying or playing video games.13 But there could be more to it. Another study that looked at the effect of daylight on the rate of eye growth found that the eyes of the children studied grew regularly during the summer but grew too fast during the short winter days in Denmark. This has a bearing on the development of myopia because if the eye grows too long from front to back then you become nearsighted.14
So it’s possible that spending time outdoors prevents myopia by providing more daylight exposure; however, it could also be the result of exercising distance vision (where your eyes are focused on objects at a distance).15
The View From Alternative Medicine
Natural solutions for many eye problems can also be found in alternative medical systems like Ayurveda.
- According to Ayurvedic practice, eyes must be washed with cold water in the morning to remove waste that is collected during the course of the night. Collyrium or kajal is also used for cleaning the eyes and is considered to have a soothing effect as well.
- Soaking neem leaves in lukewarm water and washing your eyes with it is recommended for conjunctivitis. This can reduce the burning sensation and swelling caused by this condition.
- Another way to improve your eyesight is by mixing triphala powder and water and letting it sit overnight before washing your eyes with it.16
- Ayurveda uses procedures like tarpana and nasya for treating eye disorders. In tarpana, a dam is built around the eye using powdered black gram, and medicated ghee is poured in to soak the eye for a while. This procedure can be used to treat diseases of the retina or optic nerve, diabetes retinopathy, and more. 17 In nasya, medicated powders and oils are instilled in the nose to remove toxins from the eyes, nose, throat, and ears. It is useful for treating watery, itching, or dry eyes as well as conjunctivitis and glaucoma.18
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Matsumoto, Hitoshi, Yuko Nakamura, Shuji Tachibanaki, Satoru Kawamura, and Masao Hirayama. “Stimulatory effect of cyanidin 3-glycosides on the regeneration of rhodopsin.” Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 51, no. 12 (2003): 3560-3563.|
|2.||↑||Nakaishi, Hitoshi, Hitoshi Matsumoto, Shigeru Tominaga, and Masao Hirayama. “Effects of black currant anthocyanoside intake on dark adaptation and VDT work-induced transient refractive alteration in healthy humans.” Alternative Medicine Review 5, no. 6 (2000): 553-562.|
|3.||↑||Ma, Le, and Xiao‐Ming Lin. “Effects of lutein and zeaxanthin on aspects of eye health.” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 90, no. 1 (2010): 2-12.|
|4.||↑||Gupta, Suresh Kumar, Deepa Trivedi, Sushma Srivastava, Sujata Joshi, Nabanita Halder, and Shambhu D. Verma. “Lycopene attenuates oxidative stress induced experimental cataract development: an in vitro and in vivo study.” Nutrition 19, no. 9 (2003): 794-799.|
|5.||↑||McIntyre, Anne. Herbal treatment of children: Western and Ayurvedic perspectives. Elsevier Health Sciences, 2005.|
|6.||↑||Frawley, David. Ayurvedic healing: a comprehensive guide. Lotus Press, 2000.|
|7.||↑||Verma, Vinod. Ayurveda: A way of life. Weiser Books, 1995.|
|8.||↑||Risner, David, Rita Ehrlich, Nisha S. Kheradiya, Brent Siesky, Lynne McCranor, and Alon Harris. “Effects of exercise on intraocular pressure and ocular blood flow: a review.” Journal of glaucoma 18, no. 6 (2009): 429-436.|
|9.||↑||Knudtson, Michael D., Ronald Klein, and Barbara EK Klein. “Physical activity and the 15-year cumulative incidence of age-related macular degeneration: the Beaver Dam Eye Study.” British journal of ophthalmology 90, no. 12 (2006): 1461-1463.|
|10.||↑||Exercise for Eyes and Vision, American Academy of Ophthalmology. 2012.|
|11.||↑||Strabismus Treatment, American Academy of Ophthalmology.|
|12.||↑||Ruiz, F. “Yoga for the Eyes” Yoga Journal (2007).|
|13.||↑||Sherwin, Justin C., Mark H. Reacher, Ruth H. Keogh, Anthony P. Khawaja, David A. Mackey, and Paul J. Foster. “The association between time spent outdoors and myopia in children and adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Ophthalmology 119, no. 10 (2012): 2141-2151.|
|14.||↑||Cui, Dongmei, Klaus Trier, and Søren Munk Ribel-Madsen. “Effect of day length on eye growth, myopia progression, and change of corneal power in myopic children.” Ophthalmology 120, no. 5 (2013): 1074-1079.|
|15.||↑||Turbert, David. More Time Outdoors May Reduce Kids’ Risk of Nearsightedness, American Academy of Ophthalmology|
|16.||↑||Chaturvedi, Vaidya Suresh. Beauty & Health Through Ayurveda. Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd, 2007.|
|17.||↑||Patil, Vaidya Vasant. Keraliya Panchakarma Therapies. Atreya Ayurveda, 2013.|
|18.||↑||Sunil, V. Ayurveda And Panchakarma The Science Of Healing And Rejuvenation. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 2005.|