Preserving Your Vision: The Power of Nutrition as You Age

Guest Blog by Dr. Dennis Ruskin

As the years go by, our bodies undergo many changes inside and out. While wrinkles and gray hair are the visible signs of aging, even more transformations are happening at a cellular level. These internal shifts can impact how well our organ’s function, how strong our muscles remain, and how sharp our minds stay. One area greatly affected is our eyesight - the risk of developing age-related eye diseases like macular degeneration, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy increases significantly as we get older. While genetics and environmental exposures play a role, the foods you eat have a major influence on maintaining healthy vision over the long run.

The Science Behind Aging
As we age, researchers have identified nine major biological processes, known as "hallmarks of aging" [1] that occur in our bodies and contribute to age-related decline. They are:

Genetic Mutations: Just like a library with damaged books, our body's genetic material (DNA) can get damaged over time. This can lead to mistakes in our cells that may cause them to not work properly.

Telomere Attrition: Think of telomeres like the plastic tips at the ends of shoelaces that stop them from unraveling. As we get older, these tips on our chromosome cells get shorter, which makes our cells get old.

Epigenetics or disruptions in how genes are regulated: This is like a switch that can turn genes on or off without changing the DNA itself. As we age, these switches can change, affecting how our genes work.

Accumulation of misfolded proteins inside cells: Proteins are the building blocks of our cells, but sometimes they can fold incorrectly and accumulate, which can disrupt cell function.

Deregulated Nutrient Sensing: Our cells use nutrients to know when to grow and when to conserve resources. As we age, this system can get out of balance, affecting our health.

Mitochondrial Dysfunction: Mitochondria are like the power plants of our cells, providing them with energy. Over time, they can become less efficient, leading to less energy for the cell.

Cellular Senescence: Senescent cells are like old workers who no longer perform their jobs but also don't leave, taking up space and secreting harmful substances that can damage nearby cells.

Stem Cell Exhaustion: Stem cells help repair and regenerate tissues. As we age, we have fewer of these cells, which makes it harder for our bodies to heal and renew themselves.

Altered Intercellular Communication: This is about how cells talk to each other. With age, this communication can get disrupted, leading to inflammation and other issues that contribute to aging.

While this might sound alarming, eating a balanced, nutrition-packed diet can help counteract many of these age-related changes at the cellular level. 

Nutrition: A Key Weapon Against Aging
The foods you eat provide important nutrients that support optimal cellular function and longevity[2] :

  • Antioxidants from plant foods help remove toxic cellular byproducts and debris
  • B vitamins and other cofactors allow mitochondria to produce energy more efficiently
  • Getting proper ratios of protein, fats, and carbs ensures cells can properly process nutrients for energy
  • Certain compounds promote stem cell activity for better healing and tissue repair
  • Key vitamins and minerals facilitate proper cell signaling and communication

To support your aging body, emphasize these foods:

  • Fruits and vegetables: Packed with a wide array of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals
  • Whole grains: Provide energizing carbs and fiber for healthy digestion
  • Lean proteins: From chicken, fish, beans, nuts etc. for muscle health and repair
  • Healthy fats: Found in avocados, olive oil, fatty fish to regulate inflammation

Protecting Your Eyes: The Antioxidant Advantage
Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that can damage proteins and cells through a process called oxidation - similar to how a sliced apple turns brown when exposed to air. While some oxidation is natural and used for energy production, excessive free radical activity can be harmful. This is where antioxidants come in. These compounds, abundant in plant foods, help neutralize free radicals and prevent oxidative stress that accelerates aging and disease. Two antioxidants that deserve special mention for their vision-protecting powers are the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin.

Numerous large studies, such as the landmark Age-Related Eye Disease (AREDS) and AREDS2 trials, have confirmed that people who consume higher amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin from foods like leafy green vegetables have significantly reduced risks of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness[3]

Other potent antioxidants like zinc, vitamins C and E have also been shown to help prevent the worsening of AMD and vision loss from cataracts and other age-related eye diseases. In fact, the AREDS2 study found that a specific daily supplement formulation containing zinc, C, E, copper, lutein and zeaxanthin can significantly slow the progression of AMD in those at high risk[4]

Beyond antioxidants, other nutrients provide complementary eye-protective benefits:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids from fish, walnuts and flaxseeds may help prevent AMD and dry eye[5]
  • Vitamin B1 from meats, eggs and whole grains may reduce cataract risk[6]
  • Vitamin A from dairy, eggs and colorful vegetables is essential for normal vision[7]
  • Vitamin D from fish, eggs and fortified foods may protect against AMD progression[8]

Taming Inflammation to Preserve Vision
One common underlying factor in many age-related eye diseases is chronic, long-term inflammation, that gradually damages delicate tissues in the eye over decades of persistent exposure. You can think of chronic inflammation as a tiny, persistent fire smoldering inside the body that never fully goes out. Many of the antioxidant-rich foods and nutrients mentioned above also exert natural anti-inflammatory effects that can help counteract this chronic inflammatory process that drives vision loss with age[9]. A dietary pattern emphasizing plenty of fresh produce, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy plant-based fats can keep inflammation at bay while providing a wealth of those critical vision-protecting vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

In contrast, a typical Western diet heavy in processed, fried, and sugary fare actively promotes chronic inflammation and oxidative stress - setting the stage for accelerated aging and increased disease risk down the road [10].

Start Early for Optimal Results
While adopting better nutritional habits can benefit your health at any age, the decades of cumulative effects from poor eating are a root cause of most age-related chronic diseases that impact vision and overall wellness. Starting healthy eating habits as early as possible gives you the best chance at maintaining clear, sharp eyesight well into your golden years[11] 

The Mediterranean Way of Eating for Lifelong Eye Health
Rather than simply focusing on individual nutrients, a growing body of research points to the overall Mediterranean-style dietary pattern providing optimal protection for vision and general healthy longevity. This eating approach emphasizes:

  • Abundant fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds
  • Using olive oil as the main fat source
  • Eating moderate portions of fish, poultry and dairy
  • Limiting red meat, sweets and processed foods

Studies have found remarkably lower risks of AMD and other age-related eye diseases among people closely following this Mediterranean diet pattern compared to those consuming a more typical Western diet higher in meats, ultra-processed fare and sugary items[12]. The Mediterranean diet is naturally rich in beneficial fats like anti-inflammatory omega-3s, phytonutrient antioxidants from colorful plant foods, and other compounds that nourish the eyes while controlling oxidation and inflammation. This way of eating is highly recommended by doctors and nutrition experts for preserving not just vision, but promoting overall health into older age.           

Preserving Visual Performance
While preventing conditions like AMD, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy is crucial, good nutrition can also help maintain overall visual abilities and performance as you get older. With age, difficulties with focus, light sensitivity, night vision, and color perception can arise even in those without diagnosed eye diseases. The eyes rely on many of the same vitamins, minerals and antioxidants highlighted for disease prevention to function optimally. For example, lutein and zeaxanthin aren't just beneficial for reducing AMD risk - they are the only carotenoids able to form macular pigment in the retina. This pigment acts like a pair of internal sunglasses, helping eyes better withstand glare and filter harmful blue light that can damage light-sensitive photoreceptor cells over time. Higher macular pigment levels allow for superior visual performance, particularly in bright conditions[13].

When Supplements May Be Beneficial
For older adults already experiencing significant vision issues or eye diseases, appropriate supplements can complement a healthy diet and potentially provide added benefits. The AREDS and AREDS2 studies established supplement formulas that can slow advancement of AMD and preserve vision in those at high risk. However, some researchers found that individual genetic makeup may influence the response to nutritional interventions[14].  

It is important to recognize that supplements are meant to provide supplemental nutrients, not replace a poor diet. Even the most scientifically-validated vision supplements won't be able to compensate for decades of nutritional deficiencies and unhealthy eating patterns that contribute to accelerated aging and vision loss over time. The decision to use dietary supplements should be informed by individual health needs, dietary intake, and specific nutrient deficiencies rather than a blanket recommendation for or against their use. The most beneficial approach is to adopt an antioxidant-rich, anti-inflammatory dietary pattern like the Mediterranean diet earlier in life - providing a strong foundation of essential eye-healthy nutrients. Then later, supplements like Platinum Naturals’ Total Vision Care can be added if needed to potentially further reduce risks or disease progression based on your individual needs and risk factors.

The Power of Prevention
While treatments for vision-robbing eye diseases continue to advance, an ounce of prevention is still worth a pound of cure. By making nutritious, antioxidant-rich foods like those found in the Mediterranean diet a staple of your lifestyle from an early age, you can take an active role in preserving your precious eyesight for decades to come. For those already experiencing significant vision issues or at high risk of eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration, appropriate vision supplements can play an important complementary role when paired with a healthy diet. Supplements may be necessary and beneficial in cases of nutrient deficiency, for specific populations at risk of malnutrition, such as older adults or breastfed infants before the introduction of whole milk and solid foods. While advancing age will always present some challenges, prioritizing wholesome, sight-saving eating habits now gives you a powerful advantage in the fight against cataracts, macular degeneration and other debilitating eye diseases.

Nourishing our Visual Abilities: The Role of Diet and Supplements in Preventing Eye Diseases
In conclusion, embracing a nutrient-rich, antioxidant-packed diet from an early age offers a strong foundation for preserving vision and preventing age-related eye diseases like macular degeneration, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy. The Mediterranean diet, with its emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, emerges as a particularly effective dietary pattern for supporting eye health and overall wellness as we age. While certain situations may call for the addition of supplements, particularly among those already facing significant vision issues or nutrient deficiencies, it's clear that these should complement, not replace, a healthy diet. Consulting healthcare professionals for personalized advice ensures that any supplementation strategy is safely aligned with individual health needs and dietary intake. By prioritizing a balanced diet rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods, we can wield nutrition as a powerful tool in the ongoing effort to maintain sharp, healthy vision and reduce the risk of eye diseases well into our later years.

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