Lutein, Zeaxanthin and Bilberry for preventive eye health.



Macular degeneration

Before discussing Lutein, Zeaxanthin and Bilberry we need to have a basic understanding of macular degeneration (MD) MD is a medical condition affecting the eyes, and it happens when the light-sensing cells in the macula go wrong and stop working. It’s the leading cause of blindness in the United States for people over the age of 50, leading to the term ‘age-related macular degeneration’ (AMD).

Oxidative stress and the eyes

Although AMD and cataracts are the top causes of blindness, how they are caused is still a bit of a mystery. Many experts think they could be the result of oxidative stress. The body constantly reacts with oxygen as part of the energy producing processes of cells, and as a consequence, it produces highly reactive molecules known as free radicals.

These interact with other molecules within the cell, which can cause oxidative damage to proteins, membranes and genes. This kind of damage has been implicated in the cause of certain diseases and almost certainly has an impact on the body's ageing process.

Because its protective cells don’t regenerate themselves, the part of the eye most susceptible to oxidative damage is the lens.

When the underlying epithelial cells are exposed to reactive oxygen, the proteins in the lens clump together, and cataracts are formed.

The retina, which uses more oxygen than any other tissue in the body, is also susceptible to damage. Polyunsaturated fatty acids found in the lens and retina, are easily affected by oxidation, resulting in degradation in function and structure of the eye.

Aside from metabolic oxidization, another source of free radicals is pollution, and of course cigarette smoke. Avoiding these as much as possible can only help your eyes.

In addition, experts warn that AMD may well be caused by too much exposure to sunlight (especially high-energy blue light). That’s why it’s extremely important to wear sunglasses containing top-quality lenses, particuarly in high light-exposure environments such as ski resorts and beaches.

Lutein

So is there anything else we can do to help the health of our eyes? As a matter of fact, there is. It’s called lutein.

The pigment lutein (LOO-teen) (from the Latin lutea, meaning "yellow") is one of over 600 known naturally occurring carotenoids. It’s found in corn, egg yolk, and other yellow and green fruits and vegetables, but it also occurs in some eye tissues, specifically the pigment of the retina and parts of the lens.

Lutein may play a role in slowing the age-related degeneration of these tissues, both directly as an antioxidant, and indirectly by absorbing blue light.

In fact, various research indicates that a direct relationship exists between lutein intake and pigmentation in the eye, and studies show that it may reduce blue light intensity by up to 90%. It’s one of the secret weapons plants use to protect themselves from the sun.

Most people consume lutein as part of a normal diet containing fruits and vegetables, but elderly and ill people can gain from taking a lutein supplement, because their digestive systems may not be functioning at an optimal level. In addition, much of the food grown and distributed today lacks a healthy nutritional content, on account of pollution, poor soil, long storage periods and so on. That means most people could well benefit from supplementing with lutein.

Bilberry

Another superb antioxidant particularly appreciated by your eyes is Vaccinium myrtillus, more commonly known as bilberry (and also as whortleberry, blaeberry, whinberry/winberry, whortleberry, fraughan, and myrtle blueberry!)

Bilberry shrubs grow in the world’s temperate regions and produce a fruit that’s eaten fresh or used to make desserts, preserves and drinks. It’s leaves have also historically been used to treat a range of gastrointestinal disorders.

One particular plus point of gorging on bilberries, is that they are said to improve night vision, and rumour has it that RAF pilots in World War II used them specifically for that purpose. Studies have shown they may also reduce or reverse the effects of MD, probably due to the effects on blood capilliaries of their antioxidant chemicals, called anthocyanidin flavonoids.

Anthocyanidin flavonoid compounds are derivatives of the pigments that cause the blue, violet, or red colours in flowers and fruits. At least fifteen different versions have been identified in bilberry extracts, which means bilberry supplements can deliver a powerful dose of them right to where they are needed most: in your eyes.

Zeaxanthin

Aside from lutein and bilberry, another excellent ‘eye supplement’ is zeaxanthin. It’s one of the most common carotenoid alcohols found in nature, and is the pigment that gives saffron, corn and other yellow plants their characteristic colour.

More importantly, zeaxanthin is one of the two carotenoids contained in the retina (the other being lutein, as we saw previously).

Experiments have shown that low levels of zeaxanthin can have a detrimental an effect on the eye, in the same way that a lack of lutein can. For that reason, some studies support the view that supplemental lutein and/or zeaxanthin helps protect against AMD.

There’s also a fair bit of evidence that increasing your intake of lutein and zeaxanthin will lower your risk of developing cataracts.

Combination of high-dose nutrients for eye health

Aside from lutein, zeaxanthin and bilberry, The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (a clinical trial sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health) shows that a combination of high-dose beta-carotene, zinc, vitamin E and vitamin C can reduce the risk of developing advanced AMD by around 25%.

You only get one set of eyes: it’s probably wise to look after them as best you can while you still have the chance.

Medical References: 34,35,36,37,38,39

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