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Sunglasses are important! But don’t forget the anti-oxidants!

Sunglasses are important! But don’t forget the anti-oxidants!

Sunlight of course has its benefits, as a mood enhancer and a critical source of Vitamin D which is an important part of our body processes that supports absorption of the nutrients that the health of our bones and other systems depend on.

But what about the negative aspects of sun exposure - it in fact causes slow and cumulative damage to the eyes and skin. We can clearly see the skin effects over time, but the eye damage is perhaps a little more subtle, and yet often far more debilitating.
A new study has shown a clear association with high lifetime exposure to sunlight and age related macular degeneration in people who do not get adequate amounts of vitamins C and E and the carotenoid zeaxanthin.
The study found that those who do get enough of these antioxidants were in fact protected.

Two parts of the eye in particular, the light sensitive tissue at the back of the eye known as the retina and the macula, a highly specialised tissue structure near the centre of the retina, rely heavily on antioxidant dependent mechanisms for protection from the damaging affects of he sun and other sources.
Vitamins C and E, the carotenoids zeaxanthin and lutein and zinc are all required. The simple fact is that as we age, these mechanisms for protection and repair become less able to keep up with the accumulating damage.

What combinations are important?
The study which was published in the Archives of Ophthalmology, examined the relationship between sunlight exposure, antioxidant status, and macular degeneration in a group of people over the age of 65. Answers to questions about hours spent outdoors doing various activities during adulthood as well as geographical histories were used to estimate individuals’ lifetime exposures to blue light (believed to be the most damaging wavelength from the visible spectrum).
Retinal photographs were used by the researchers to identify and measure the degreee of macular degeneration and blood tests were used to measure levels of the antioxidant nutrients Vitamin C and E, zeaxanthin and lutein and zinc.

Of the 4443 people in the study, slightly more than half had some degree of macular degeneration. The combination of high lifetime blue light exposure and low antioxidant status was linked to increased risk of advanced macular degeneration. Having low levels of a single antioxidant did not appear to have a marked effect, however, having low levels of several antioxidants DID!
The strongest link between high lifetime light exposure and macular degeneration was seen in people with the lowest levels of three antioxidants - vitamin C, vitamin E and zeaxanthin.

Taking care of our eyes is obviously important as age related macular degeneration is a common affliction in our seniors(for example; it is the most common cause of vision loss for the over 50’s in the USA).
People with macular degeneration usually notice a gradual loss of central vision. They may also notice that straight lines can appear wavy or bent, and may have difficulty reading and seeing details.

The key recommendations given by the authors of the study to prevent age related macular degeneration were “lowering retinal exposure to blue light and ensuring that intake of key antioxidant nutrients is sufficient”. “We advise reducing ocular exposure when outdoors by wearing broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses, this is estimated to reduce ocular light exposure by approximately 40% - 70%, respectively.

Additional recommendations:

If you are concerned and want to be proactive then try the following.
  • Avoid midday hours of most intensive sunlight, between 11am and 3 pm
  • Eat a varied diet with lots of colourful fruits and vegetables to ensure that you are getting enough carotenoids and Vitamin C, as well as the bioflavonoid antioxidants that might also be protective.
  • Eat plenty of vitamin E rich foods such a liquid oils, nuts and seeds, tomato sauce and avocado, and foods with zinc such a meat, dairy products where appropriate, fish, whole grains and again don’t forget the nuts and seeds that may help round out the diet by providing these important nutrients.

For me, I do value my eyesight and choose to give my eyes a little additional help by having a dose of Berry Radical every day, a full spectrum unadulterated certified organic food source of powerful antioxidants. As far as most of us are concerned, when its antioxidants, generally more is better.

Archives of Opthalmology 2008; 126:1396-403

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