Peak Vision: Top picks for eye health

We’d all hope to see the faces of our grandchildren—or even great grandchildren—clearly, and not through a haze of blurred vision. But will we? Cataracts, a “clouding” of the eye lenses, afflict half of all people over 50 and three-quarters of those over 75. Macular degeneration, a breakdown of tissue in the retina, is the most common cause of blindness in people over 50. But these diseases are not an inevitable part of aging, say experts. For both of these vision problems, free radical damage appears to be the problem, and high-quality antioxidants seem to be the solution!


Made famous by World War II British air pilots who claimed it helped increase their visual acuity and night-time vision, bilberry is a powerful antioxidant with a wide range of vision benefits. It is especially helpful for macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy because it actually strengthens the tiny capillaries in the retina to improve blood flow and oxygenation. Compounds in bilberry called anthocyanosides provide protection against cataracts. In one study, bilberry with vitamin E inhibited cataract development in a vast majority of cataract patients. Bilberry may also help with glaucoma, as it strengthens the collagen base of connective eye tissue.


Lutein and zeaxanthin are members of the carotenoid family and make up the pigment in the macula of the eye—the area of the retina responsible for distinguishing fine detail. Studies suggest that increased intake of lutein and zeaxanthin increases the macula’s pigment, and scientists believe that greater pigment may protect this area of the retina over time—especially from sunlight and other damaging forms of light. One study found that those with high lutein intake decreased their risk for age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) by 57% compared to those with low intake. Two other large studies have linked lutein to fewer problems with cataracts. Lutein is found in spinach, kale and leeks, and is also available as a single dietary supplement or in many vision health combination products.


Since free radicals, or oxidants, play a role in both cataracts and ARMD, it stands to reason that having potent antioxidants in the body offers protection from these diseases. Grape seed extract is one such potent antioxidant—much more potent than vitamin C or E. Like bilberry, it strengthens the capillaries that feed the eyes with oxygen-rich blood. In addition, a study on computer users revealed that grape seed extract reduced eye strain and improved contrast vision in just 60 days!

Don’t take good vision for granted—add antioxidants to your diet, or look into one or more of these eye-protecting supplements.

Sources: The Healing Power of Vitamins, Minerals and Herbs, Reader’s Digest:1999; The Natural Pharmacy by S Linenger et al, Prima:1998; Dietary Supplement Information Bureau (www.supplementinfo.com)