“I’m eating carrots, so my eyes should be fine.”

While carrots are okay for your eyes and your general health, it is much more complex than simply eating carrots. You should pay close attention to your nutrition if you want your visual system working at an optimal level.

Here is some eye trivia. The retina, the back of the eye that receives light information, has the highest metabolic need of any tissue in our body. The retina is literally a sea of blood vessels with an incredibly vast complex of tiny capillaries providing nutrients, oxygen, and waste removal for the millions of light receptors.

The macula, the pinpoint of sharpest sight in the eye, is turning over cells every two days because of the incredible metabolic demand of the part of our retina which gives us the clear sight for reading and driving. The eyes are processing eighteen billion data bits per second between the two retinas. What we take into our bodies day after day will have a significant impact on the health of various organs, and the eye is certainly no exception.

The eyes can certainly be a canary in the coalmine. Early changes in the macular condition or macular function can be precursors to what is happening throughout the rest of the body and can reflect overall health.

The importance of circulation to the retina is crucial, as it is to our whole body. Chronic stress has a significant detrimental effect on the body’s ability to circulate blood and get the nutrients to where they need to go. Anything that can be done to help with that blood flow is extremely important. The quality of the blood as far as what nutrients are able to be transporting to the cells is hugely significant. Unfortunately, with the SAD, Standard American Diet, nutrient quality has continued to decline year after year.

The eyes and brain are 50 percent fat, so the quality of the fats we eat is extremely important. Much has been written on the deleterious effects of hydrogenated fats in our diet. That is certainly true with the visual system. Good quality fats as well as the body’s ability to assimilate those fats is extremely important.

Sources of good-quality fats would include Alaska wild salmon and avocados. A couple of other sources that are not as widely known are hemp hearts and chia seeds as well as a new source I learned of this summer at a farmer’s market here in Spokane called camelina oil. It really is remarkable oil. It is a 35 percent plant-based omega-3 oil. It has a 475-degree smoke point, so it is extremely stable for cooking. Please look into that as a helpful source for your body for obtaining a very good quality oil. This can also be helpful for people with dry eye situations as well as with dry skin.

Continued research is being done on the pigments in the macula and how they are helpful in protecting the macula from ultraviolet damage from light as well as possible damage from the blue end of the visible light spectrum. Zeaxanthin and lutein are a couple of the pigments that appear to be helpful in reducing the potential for macular damage. There are instruments now available for measuring macular pigment optical density. It is a measurement that can be helpful in monitoring a person’s ability to resist damage from those sources of light.

Kale is the king of foods for lutein concentration. It has approximately twenty-six times the amount of lutein as spinach. Red peppers are a great source of zeaxanthin. If you want to make some kale chips and put some hot sauce on them, it is a nice one-two combo for getting both macular pigments into the body. If you are not a kale fan, supplements can be taken.

A person’s digestive system is crucial. A well-working system is extremely helpful, as we have had a few patients who have compromised digestive systems. Their ability to assimilate zeaxanthin and lutein is significantly slower or impaired due to their poor digestive abilities.

Another supplement that has been helpful for the eyes and brain is astaxanthin. It helps with oxygen intake to the brain and eyes and has the nice side benefit of appearing to help decrease the chance of getting sunburn due to the pigment that is in the astaxanthin.

I recommend people also become more aware of the many benefits of naturally fermented foods. Naturally fermented sauerkraut can have 316 billion probiotic colonies per teaspoon. Our entire gut flora is about ten trillion probiotic colonies, so a tablespoon of sauerkraut would provide almost one trillion good bacteria. A number of patients with digestive difficulties have been extremely pleased with how much their digestive ability has improved once they started consuming the naturally fermented foods.

The importance of nutrients for the eye cannot be underestimated. Help your eyes and your body benefit from improving the availability of good-quality nutrients. You will not be sorry.