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How to keep your sight by eating right

Chuck, the other day, I was pondering one of our most amazing senses, sight, when I thought, Is there anything we can do to keep our eyes healthy? – “Looking at You,” Lynchburg, Va.

I recently was reminded of the importance of eye health as I was watching a news interview with April Lufriu, who recently was crowned Mrs. America. Lufriu and her three children were diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, which is a group of retinal degenerative diseases with common attributes that lead to incurable blindness. The first symptom of RP is generally the loss or impairment of peripheral and night vision.

An estimated 100,000 people in the U.S. have RP, which is inherited from mutated genes in one or both parents. As the Foundation Fighting Blindness website explains, these “mutated genes give the wrong instructions to photoreceptor cells, telling them to make an incorrect protein, or too little or too much protein (cells need the proper amount of particular proteins in order to function properly).”

Though she wasn’t diagnosed herself until 2010, Lufriu has been a lead spokeswoman for the FFB since 2007, when her kids were diagnosed. Now as Mrs. America, she’s taking that message of hope for the visually impaired to the whole country and beyond, in pursuit of raising awareness and funds for more research that will lead to treatments, preventions and cures for retinal degenerative diseases.

Though presently there is no known cure for RP (hence the need for further research), vitamin A has been found to slow RP’s progression.

Based on a study of retinal degeneration at Harvard Medical School, FFB researchers write, “Most adults with blinding retinitis pigmentosa should take a daily 15,000 (international unit) vitamin A palmitate supplement and avoid high dose vitamin E to help prolong their vision.” (Of course, health practitioners always should be consulted for proper assessment of individual dosages.)

Among other eye ailments, there are several other retinal diseases and detrimental diagnoses, including diabetic retinopathy, retinal detachment, macular hole, epiretinal membrane and intraocular eye infection. But one of the most prevalent retinal diseases is age-related macular degeneration, or AMD.

There is bad news and good news here.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, AMD alone affects more than 10 million Americans and is the leading cause of vision loss in people older than 60. AMD originates when the macula, a part of the retina in the rear of the eye that is responsible for central vision, is impaired. Advanced stages of AMD are treated by surgery and a couple of different drugs, including Regeneron’s new drug, Eylea, which was just approved by the Food and Drug Administration at a staggering cost of $1,850 a dose. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that a balanced diet and a fitness program make a natural path to maintaining good overall health, including the health of our eyes. They even can lessen the impact of many AMD risk factors – such as obesity and inactivity, high cholesterol, smoking, high blood pressure, drug side effects, etc.

The University of Maryland Medical Center calls nutrition alone a “valuable treatment” for AMD. Researchers at the university noted that “a combination of antioxidant vitamins plus zinc helped slow the progression of intermediate macular degeneration to an advanced stage, which is when most vision loss occurs.”

The doses of nutrients to treat AMD include:

Lutein and zeaxanthin – carotenoids that are found in high concentrations in such agents as spinach, corn and egg yolk – are antioxidants, which help lower the risk and progression of AMD.

The University of Maryland Medical Center also recommends eating leafy greens. Researchers discovered that risks of AMD were lowered by individuals eating dark, leafy greens – such as spinach, collard greens, kale and watercress.

It also recommends eating more fish, which is high in omega-3 fatty acid. Studies show that the risk of AMD is cut in half for those who eat fish just once a week.

The center also calls the use of herbs “a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease.” Specifically, ginkgo (160-240 milligrams daily), bilberry (120-240 milligrams two times daily) and grape seed (50-150 milligrams daily) contain flavonoids, which researchers believe can treat and prevent AMD.

Be cautious, however, when taking or combining herbs and vitamin supplements. For example, zinc at a dose of 80 milligrams or more also can be harmful; ginkgo can increase the risk of bleeding (and shouldn’t be taken with other anticoagulants); and herbs, when combined, can have side effects.

So always consult with your health practitioners about your vitamin and supplement intake, especially in light of your particular health history and diet. And most of all, don’t forget that you always should maintain regular annual examinations by your eye doctor.

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In this case, so is our health.

By the way, good luck to Mrs. America, April Lufriu, in her December competition for the crown of Mrs. World. America will be rooting for you! Even more, my wife, Gena, and I join all Americans in saying, “God bless you in the success of your mission to reverse the tide of retinal diseases!”