The Science Behind Keeping your Peepers Protected

For those of you confused by the perhaps overly alliterative title, in this article, we’re talking about eye health, and more specifically, about how eating a healthy diet rich in ‘superfoods’ can help to protect your sight.

Eye health is becoming more and more of an issue in the western world, largely due to the significant rise in a condition called age-related macular degeneration, or AMD for short. A recent study published in Lancet Global Health found that at the rate AMD is currently increasing, there will be an estimated 196 million sufferers by 2020 and 288 million by 2040. AMD is already ranked as a priority eye disease and is the primary cause of blindness in industrialised countries.

What is age-related macular degeneration?

Age-related macular degeneration is a painless eye condition that causes sufferers to lose central vision usually in both eyes. The condition is caused by damage to the macula, a small spot near the centre of the eye made up of millions of light-sensing cells that provide sharp, central vision. Over time and with exposure to certain light sources, the macula can become damaged. The result is a loss of central vision when sufferers focus straight ahead and this can make simple tasks like reading, writing, driving and even recognising people’s faces much more difficult.

What causes age-related macular degeneration?

The rise in the number of people suffering from AMD is down to a combination of the ageing population and the increase of UV exposure from ozone thinning and blue-light emitting technologies. We are all exposed to blue light from the sun, artificial light and digital devices. The macula in the eye contains a yellow pigment which naturally filters out this light. However, too much exposure to blue light can lead to the degeneration of the macula resulting in the loss of central vision. And, despite its prevalence and rate of growth, there is currently no definitive treatment for this condition.

What can we do to protect our eyes?

One of the main causes of the rise in AMD is the increased level of exposure many of us now have to blue light. The widespread use of mobile phones, tablets and computers means any of us now spend much of our lives staring at screens that have the potential to damage our eyes. Given our reliance on computers at work, apart from limiting the use of blue light emitting technology in our personal lives, there’s not much we can do to reduce the levels of exposure.

Thankfully, there is another way we can protect ourselves, and perhaps surprisingly, research has shown that something as simple as our diet can help to prevent advanced age-related macular degeneration.

The role of ‘superfoods’

Research has shown that we can give our eyesight the best chance of survival by eating a diet that’s rich in lutein and zeaxanthin. These are two naturally occurring carotenoids found in foods like kale, spinach, cress, lettuce and peas. Here are more lutein and zeaxanthin rich foods along with the level of carotenoids they contain per 100g.

A study by Harvard University of 102,046 participants over 40 years found that those who eat plenty of these foods are 40 percent less likely to develop advanced age-related macular degeneration. This further proves the power of a healthy diet and gives those who are overexposed to blue light a simple but effective way to protect their peepers.