Here comes the sun – Look after your eyes!
Protect your eyes from sun damage
The first week in May is National Sun Awareness Week, and the sun is finally appearing to shine!
Whilst this is a campaign led by The British Association of Dermatologists (BAD). UV radiation from the sun can also cause damage to your eyes.
As someone who has been severely short-sighted, has had a retina tear, diagnosed with glaucoma and had two cataract operations all before turning 57, I am acutely aware of the need to take care of our precious eyes.
As we are now starting to come into the warmer, sunnier months, let’s revisit how we can best take care of our eye health.
Why the sun damages the eyes
If your eyes are exposed to ultraviolet light over a long period of time, it can damage the cells of the macula. This is found in the central part of the retina at the back of the eye and critical to your vision.
It is thought that long-term exposure to UV light may increase your risk of developing macular degeneration. It is believed that sun exposure creates excess free radicals that damage the cells of the macula.
Important steps to protect your eyes
It’s common sense to wear good quality sunglasses that protect the eyes against UV light. UV light can burn the retina even on a cloudy day and at its worst damage the macula. Do wear sunglasses throughout the summer months.
Stay well hydrated
Hydration is equally important to your eyes as it is to the rest of your body. Eyes require hydration to maintain correct moisture levels and help protect against dry eyes. Everyone should aim to consume 1.5-2.5L hydrating fluid a day; well diluted cordials, fruit and herbal teas and plain water all count. The higher amounts are required for those taller and more active.
The importance of nutrition
There are several nutrients that are essential to maintain the health of your eyes.
Eating plenty of lutein rich foods, including dark green vegetable and brightly coloured fruits, is associated with better protection for the macula.
The essential fatty acids EPA/DHA from Omega-3 are associated with a lower risk of AMD (age related macular degeneration). These are found in high levels in oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines) and small amounts in walnuts and dark green leafy vegetables.
High levels of zinc are required for the eyes, as it’s important for the visual pigments in the retina. The best sources are shellfish (oysters have extremely high levels), red meat, chicken thighs, pumpkin seeds, pulses, eggs and dairy.
I explained that UV light creates free radicals which damage the retinal cells. Also known as oxidative stress, it has a key role to play in many eye diseases that develop, especially in older age. Maintaining good levels of antioxidants in the diet is important, including both water-soluble and fat soluble vitamins C and E respectively.
Vitamin C is found in kiwi fruit, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower), peppers, tomatoes and oranges.
Vitamin E is found in sunflower seeds, pine nuts, Brazil nuts, almonds, avocado, spinach, Atlantic salmon and trout.
Plant carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin help prevent AMD by helping to protect against light-induced free-radical damage. Good sources of lutein and zeaxanthin are egg yolk kiwi fruit, orange pepper, dark green cruciferous vegetables, courgette and squash.
Lycopene is another carotenoid that also has an important antioxidant effect, protecting the eyes. Found in tomatoes (especially cooked ones), red carrots, watermelon, asparagus and parsley. Fats help absorption from the gut into the bloodstream, so cook with extra virgin olive oil.
If you have a family history of eye diseases like AMD, cataracts and glaucoma then as an extra preventative you may – like me – wish to supplement the key nutrients. I like Dr Vegan Screen Eyes which contains all the key nutrients above alongside a good quality fish oil (or algae oil) for EPA/DHA, such as Wileys Peak EPA, or Biocare Mega EPA.
Watch my live on protecting your eyes from sun damage and subscribe to my YouTube channel to see all my videos.
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