Vision loss is one of the most traumatizing forms of disability especially in cases where loss of vision is rapid. However, those with long-term degradation of vision also suffer but in different ways due to the ongoing life changes that take place as certain daily activities become more difficult or are no longer possible at all.
Whether it be as a result of cataracts, glaucoma or a form of macular degeneration, patients with such conditions face ongoing uncertainty and isolation. Globally, according to 2002 statistics, 1 in approximately 40 people is visually impaired and 1 in 167 is blind. While the numbers in Europe and the Americas are better with 1 in 55 being visually impaired and only 1 in 339 being blind, vision loss still affects a significant number of people.
For those with access to appropriate medical treatment, cataract surgery can restore sight through the replacement of the clouded lens of the eye. Glaucoma, an increase in fluid pressure in the eye, is also treatable either with beta-blocker eye drops or surgery. Macular degeneration, a largely genetic condition, is now partially treatable with eye injections, although this sounds pretty painful.
These options obviously have their place, but what is interesting is that for all three conditions, cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration, research has found that nutrition plays a very important role to prevent and delay progression of these diseases. With these conditions accounting for more that 68% of all visual impairment, nutrition has an important role in protecting vision.
For the onset of cataracts, a study in the early nineties pointed out that those people having a diet deficient in fruits and vegetables were 5.7 times more likely to develop cataracts than those not deficient in this food area. The studies suggested that the vitamin C, vitamin E and carotenoids from the foods were very powerful compounds with respect to their ability to protect the eyes and delay onset of cataracts.
Similarly, studies related to glaucoma found similar benefits from fruits and vegetables with risks of developing the disease being reduced by approximately 50 to 70 percent strictly based on diet. For those with the condition, vitamin A, chromium and Omega-3 fatty acids were found to reduce pressure within the eye while a vitamin C deficiency was found to increase the pressure.
Very recently, studies have found the importance of nutrition with respect to macular degeneration. It seems that the antioxidants found in a number of foods protect the eyes by reducing the amount of oxidants in the eye. The oxidizing chemicals are formed when light hits the neurons in the eye and will kill neurons when concentrations are too high, causing permanent loss of vision. In one of the studies, the rate of degeneration was reduced by 20% simply by a change in diet. Again the diet described included more daily fruits and vegetables, but additionally nuts.
We often take our vision for granted, but those with vision loss are acutely aware of the importance of seeing. With a few decades of research and ongoing research reinforcing that nutrition strongly affects vision, we should all take the opportunity to protect our sight with better diet. Of all the things we might be asked to do, eating is pretty easy.