Minerals, Bioflavonoids and Other Compounds for Eye Health
The saying “You are what you eat” is surprisingly accurate. There are many nutrients and compounds in our food that contribute to our overall good health, including the health of our eyes. Some of these are probably familiar to you; others you've probably never heard of, but they may already be in your diet! Read on to find out what great things may be lurking in your favorite foods.
Selenium is a mineral which has several important functions in the body, one of which is to support the antioxidant work of vitamin E. Selenium is required for the creation of a protective enzyme called glutathione peroxidase, which works alongside vitamin E to combat free radicals and prevent cell damage.
Since the body only requires a very small amount of selenium, supplements are usually only prescribed to patients with specific conditions, such as those with mercury poisoning, those who have low levels of selenium in their blood cells and those who do not have sufficient glutathione peroxidase activity in their body. However, doctors frequently recommend multivitamins that contain selenium, including supplements specifically labeled for eye health. Food sources of selenium include meat, eggs, cheese, garlic, and some types of nuts and seeds, grains and fish.
Zinc and Copper
Studies have shown that people who don't have enough zinc in their diets have a higher risk of macular degeneration, a serious eye disease which causes progressive blindness. Copper deficiency may also play in preventing macular degeneration and the development of cataracts. For good health, you must ingest the right balance of these minerals. Zinc depletes copper, so take too much zinc and you could end up with a copper deficiency. Ideally, for every milligram of copper, you should have 8-10 of zinc, but don't overdo it. Both minerals can accumulate in the body and cause problems at high doses. Good food sources of zinc include oysters, meats, some types of seafood (including crab, shrimp and lobster), sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, green peas and dairy products. You can get copper by eating legumes, whole grains, oysters, shellfish, nuts and seeds, or organ meat.
Sulfur is considered to be one of the most important nutrients for good vision and eye health and may help prevent cataracts. Food sources of this vital mineral include meats, fish, poultry, milk, eggs, legumes, nuts, onions, garlic, cabbage, brussels sprouts, turnips, kale, kelp and seaweed, lettuce and raspberries.
Most Americans get an adequate amount of sulfur from their daily protein intake, but some people are at risk for deficiency, such as vegans. In these cases, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) powder is often recommended as a supplement. There is no standard dosage, so if you're thinking of adding MSM to your diet, you should consult your doctor He or she can tell you if it's safe for you to take MSM, and if so, help you decide how much is right for you. People with certain conditions, such as kidney problems or a history of kidney stones, shouldn't take a sulfur supplement.
Defined as a biologically active compound in fruits, bioflavonoids (sometimes referred to as “vitamin P”) are found in citrus fruits as well as red and purple fruits like cherries, plums, black currants and grapes. Other good food sources include tea, broccoli, eggplant, green peppers, tomatoes, buckwheat, flax seed, and whole grains.
Bioflavonoids are important because they are both antioxidant and antimutagenic in nature. In addition, bioflavonoids help the body to more readily absorb vitamin C, and also helps to increase the efficiency of antioxidants in the body.
One bioflavonoid, hesperidin, is found in the pith of oranges (the white layer just under the rind), making it important to eat the whole fruit and not just juice. Rutin, another bioflavonoid, may decrease capillary break down, including in the eyes. Rutin is found in buckwheat, citrus fruits, black tea and various fruits.
Lutein and zeaxanthin
Lutein and zeaxanthin are part of a group called xanthophylls, which are yellow pigments (related to beta-carotene) produced by plants. While there isn't yet conclusive evidence, studies have suggested that that these compounds are important to the prevention and treatment of macular degeneration and cataracts, and many doctors recommend supplements for people over the age of 50. Good food sources of lutein and zeaxanthin include egg yolks, corn, squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, collard greens, spinach, romaine lettuce, cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, green beans, green peas, kiwi, honeydew and peaches.
Bilberry, a fruit that's closely related to the blueberry, was once considered so important to eye health that British soldiers would consume it when preparing for night missions. Though bilberry has not been scientificly proven to have any affect on night vision, some believe that, like lutein and zeaxanthin, it may help to prevent macular degeneration and cataracts. In fact, some popular supplements even combine bilberry and lutein into one capsule.
Given its long history as a food source, bilberry is believed to be safe for most people, however you should consult with your doctor before taking any herbal supplement. You should especially not take bilberry without speaking to your doctor if you have a bleeding or clotting disorder, already take other medications or supplements which can affect clotting, have had an allergic reaction to similar berries or are breastfeeding or pregnant.
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