Northeast Wisconsin
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • June 2018
Written by 

Protect your eyes from sun damage, too!

Most of us are well-educated about the harmful effects of the sun’s UV radiation on our skin, but did you know that sunlight can also damage our eyes?

Ophthalmologists warn that too much exposure to UV light raises our risk for various eye concerns like growths on the conjunctiva (pterygium and pinguecula), cataract, age-related macular degeneration, cancer and others.

In a study by the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO), researchers found that “Eye freckles — the dark spots on the colored part of the eye (iris) — are more frequently found in people with higher lifetime exposure to sunlight. While not malignant, eye freckles could indicate the presence or risk of sunlight-triggered eye diseases like cataract or macular degeneration.”

And, this risk isn’t limited to summertime! Research also shows that strong exposure to snow reflection can result in painful damage called snow blindness. In addition, blue light from our devices is just below UV radiation on the light intensity spectrum. The fact that the two are so close in wavelength has scientists concerned that blue light, too, may be similarly harmful to our vision.

How Light Affects the Eye

A number of scientific journal entries discus how cataracts, age-related macular degeneration and other conditions appear to be related to light-induced oxidative processes within the eye. This makes a lot of sense, as parts of the eye are continually exposed to light and oxygen — the two main ingredients in the production of harmful molecules called free radicals.

When you hear the term “free radicals,” antioxidants may come to mind. That’s because antioxidants work to inhibit the process of oxidation, aka cell damage. Antioxidants may be obtained from fruits and vegetables as well as supplements.

Fighting Free Radicals in the Eye

Carotenoids, the plant pigments that produce the bright red, orange and yellow colors in many produce items, work in plants, bacteria and algae to help absorb light energy for photosynthesis. In the human body, they act as antioxidants by absorbing high-energy light waves in the blue and near-ultraviolet regions of the spectrum.

Since our bodies cannot produce carotenoids, we have to get them in our diets (best consumed with a fat source).

Of the more than 600 types of carotenoids, we are probably most familiar with alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and lycopene. However, astaxanthin deserves more attention!

Astaxanthin for Eye Health

Astaxanthin is a naturally occurring, red-colored carotenoid pigment. It is found in shrimp, salmon, algae, trout, krill and other foods, and is the most abundant carotenoid in the marine world.

Astaxanthin crosses the blood-brain barrier, so it is available to the eye, brain and central nervous system to fight oxidation.

This carotenoid has demonstrated powerful antioxidant activity and other beneficial properties for eye health. According to the International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research, astaxanthin has 10 times more antioxidant power and UV-light protective properties than other carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, zeaxanthin and lutein; hence, its nickname: the king of all carotenoids.

According to Life Extension, “Astaxanthin has been found to prevent or slow three of the most common eye diseases: age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma. In laboratory studies, astaxanthin supplementation protects retinal cells against oxidative stress and significantly reduces the area of destructive new blood vessel growth on retinas, a hallmark of advanced macular degeneration.”

In addition to promoting eye health, astaxanthin supports skin health (much like an internal sunscreen), heart health, muscle health and immune system health.

If you aren’t a huge fan of seafood, or prefer not to exceed the two-servings-per-week recommendation by the USDA, you may find it useful to take an astaxanthin supplement. There are a variety of these products from trusted brands.

Enjoy the summer sunshine — but remember to protect your skin (even your eyelids) and eyes before you head out! 

Theresa Groskopp, CN

Theresa Groskopp, a licensed certified nutritionist, is the founder and president of Natural Healthy Concepts, which has a retail location at 310 N. Westhill Blvd. in Appleton. She firmly believes that the foundation of health and wellness lies in proper nutrition. To supplement proper nutrition, Natural Healthy Concepts carries a wide variety of pharmaceutical grade supplements, homeopathic remedies and herbs — all of which are derived from the highest quality ingredients. The store also offers a nice selection of natural health products, including nontoxic sunscreens!

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