By Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS aka “The Nutrition Myth Buster”™

 

In the last decade or so, I’ve definitely noticed a lessening of sharpness in my vision. I use contact lenses already, but I set out the past few weeks to know what I could do for myself to preserve my vision and keep my eyes sharp like they’ve always been. We are what we eat – so there has to be a dietary connection, of course.

The most fascinating thing I came across was a very interesting researcher from Tufts University named Chung-Jung Chui. Chui has been investigating the effect of nutrition on the eyes for a very long time. He is actually involved with the Nutrition and Vision Project, which studies patients who have developed three of the most common vision-destroying eye problems, which are glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and macular degeneration. The first thing that he found was that patients who develop any of these three conditions had one thing in common, a diet high in processed sugar.

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There’s just no escaping it: Sugar is bad for you on so many levels. Here is why we should really think of sugar in relationship to the eyes. High sugar in your bloodstream gloms onto slippery proteins. These type of proteins are then “sticky” (rather than slippery) and difficult to travel through small blood vessels like in the eye. That is one reason diabetics have so many problems with their toes, their kidneys and their eyes, because of the tiny capillaries in those areas that need to carry cells.

Chui’s interest in diet and vision goes way back. He did a study of 500 nurses’ diets. When he examined their eyes, he found that those with the highest intake of carbs, no matter what the quality, were two and a half times more likely to develop cataracts than those eating the least carbs; the risk increased the more carbs you ate.

In another study from Australia, where researchers looked at the diets of over 1,000 patients age forty-nine or older, with no history of eye problems and no history of cataracts, the quality of the carbs did matter. They again examined them after five years as well as after ten years. Even when controlling everything, diabetes, age, sex, they still found that every significant increase in the glycemic index of the food these folks were eating increased the risk of developing cataracts. Those with the highest glycemic index had a unbelievable 77% greater risk of developing cataracts than those who ate a low GI diet.

Chui and his colleagues estimated that one-fifth of all macular degeneration cases could be eliminated if people stopped eating processed carbs and consumed a low GI diet. He believes the eye has a very active metabolism. It’s determined not just by sugar but also by oxygen. Chui believes that when you eat too much sugar, it actually turns on genes that code for low oxygen. Ultimately, the eye is being bombarded by too much sugar and too little oxygen.

It’s not just sugar. It’s also vegetable oil. Researchers at Harvard found that while processed foods doubled the risk of macular degeneration, high intakes of vegetable fat quadrupled the risk. I’ve been saying this forever – these highly processed vegetable oils are not your friend. Soybean oil, safflower oil, corn oil, sunflower, items that the vegans claim that are so great for you. They’re not. They’re very pro-inflammatory. Inflammation is the friend of every degenerative disease we know including those that affect the eye.

What you eat matters: high glycemic diets are a killer for your eyes. Cut back on sugar – and cut back on vegetable oil. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet filled with lots of carotenoids: kale, spinach, collards, blueberries, dark grapes. Make these basic lifestyle improvements right now.

And make sure you exercise and don’t smoke!

People who exercise an hour a day lower their risk of macular degeneration by two-thirds. Running or walking can also cut the risk of cataracts significantly. Amazingly, the very same diet that protects your eyes, Mediterranean eating patterns, tons of vegetables, legumes, olive oil, fish, low-glycemic index diet, low sugar, low vegetable oil; is exactly the diet that’s going to make you slim!

It’s also the diet that’s going to protect your brain; the diet that’s going to protect your heart. One big dietary change will produce a trifecta of benefits. It all starts with cutting back on sugar, cutting back on processed foods and cutting back on vegetable oil.

Be sure to watch for Part 2 of this series on eye health and nutrition.

See you soon!

Dr. Jonny

 

By Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS aka “The Nutrition Myth Buster”™

 

 

 

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