Our Eyes May Be a Window to a Healthy Brain
- Worsening vision and cognitive function are common among older people, but we have the ability to take control of our health so our eyes and mind stay clear and functioning optimally
Diseases that affect blood vessels, veins and arteries have long been implicated in cognitive impairment, and it appears this may extend to the health of blood vessels in our eyes.
Research using data that spanned 20 years and involved more than 12,000 people revealed that people with moderate to severe retinopathy, or damage to blood vessels in the retina, scored significantly lower on tests of cognitive function.
Dr. Rachel Bishop of the National Eye Institute, who was not involved in the study, says, “If the retinal blood vessels are unhealthy, there’s every reason to think that the brain blood vessels are unhealthy as well … The blood vessel supply is essential to all function, the function of all organs, and so if the blood vessels are unable to do their job, there’s no way that the brain can be functioning as well as a brain that has a good supply.”
Getting your eyes checked can reveal far more than the state of our vision. A skilled practitioner peering into eyes, or hearing about changes to your vision, may be able to detect other diseases as well, including:
|Multiple sclerosis||Sexually transmitted disease like chlamydia, herpes, syphilis and HIV|
|Thyroid disease||Systemic inflammation due to lupus or other autoimmune diseases|
When experiencing changes to vision see an eye doctor or ophthalmologist to have them checked out.
Be aware that lifestyle plays a major role in our vision and brain health, and that includes diet.
In particular, antioxidantsincluding lutein, zeaxanthin and astaxanthin are our allies for keeping vision sharp as we age. Lutein and zeaxanthin, in particular, are notable because they are located in the eyes.
According to the American Optometric Association:
“Of the 600 carotenoids found in nature, only these two are deposited in high quantities in the retina (macula) of the eye … Many studies have shown that lutein and zeaxanthin reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases, including AMD and cataracts … Beyond reducing the risk of eye disease, separate studies have shown that lutein and zeaxanthin improve visual performance in AMD patients, cataract patients and people in good health.”
As an added benefit, those with higher levels of lutein in middle-age have been found to have more youthful neural responses than those with lower levels, which suggests a lutein-rich diet may also keep you cognitively sharp.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are primarily found in organic pastured egg yolks and green leafy vegetables, with kale and spinach topping the list of lutein- and zeaxanthin-rich foods.
We also find it in orange and yellow colored fruits and vegetables. Adding dark blue or purplish, almost black-colored berries like black currants and bilberries to our diet is another wise strategy, as they contain high amounts of antioxidant anthocyanins. Research suggests bilberry, in particular, may be effective for preventing cataracts and AMD.
Astaxanthin is another notable nutrient that has emerged as the best carotenoid for eye health and the prevention of blindness. Research shows it easily crosses into the tissues of our eye and exerts its effects safely and with more potency than any of the other carotenoids, without adverse reactions.
Specifically, astaxanthin has been shown to ameliorate or prevent light-induced damage, photoreceptor cell damage, ganglion cell damage and damage to the neurons of the inner retinal layers.
Astaxanthin provides protective benefits against a number of eye-related problems, including the following:
|Age-related macular degeneration||Glaucoma|
|Cataracts||Inflammatory eye diseases such as iritis, keratitis, retinitis and scleritis|
|Cystoid macular edema||Retinal arterial occlusion|
|Diabetic retinopathy||Venous occlusion|
Astaxanthin also helps maintain appropriate eye pressure, energy levels and visual acuity. Krill oil is a great source of astaxanthin that comes with the added benefit of omega-3 fats, which are also protective of healthy vision.
People with the highest intake of animal-based omega-3 fats have a 60% lower risk of AMD (advanced macular degeneration) compared to those who consume the least.
For higher doses of astaxanthin, a supplement works well. Taking staxanthin supplement with a small amount of healthy fat, such as grass fed butter, coconut oil, MCT oil or eggs, will optimize its absorption.
As with lutein, astaxanthin works 2X duty, also protecting our brain.
Researchers found that supplementing with astaxanthin-rich (microalgae) extract led to improvements in cognitive function in older individuals who complained of age-related forgetfulness.
Another study found it may help prevent neurodegeneration associated with oxidative stress, as well as make a potent natural brain food.
It has been found to reduce the accumulation of phospholipid hydroperoxidases (PLOOH) compounds known to accumulate in the red blood cells of people who suffer from dementia, and scientists now believe astaxanthin could help prevent dementia, including Alzheimer’s.
It is becoming very clear that our vision health and brain health are intricately linked, and eating right is 1 of the best ways to protect both as we age.
Eat healthy, Be healthy, Live Lively
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