I’ve always had reliable vision. Glasses were my husband’s thing. Yet suddenly and sadly, this is no longer my situation. My children hand me objects to look at and I have to shift them farther away to see clearly. When I read at night, I can’t focus unless the book is positioned at a precise distance from my face and the light is neither too bright nor too dim. In most ways, I am loving my 40s, but these little reminders that I am, in fact, aging are quite irritating.
I am not alone. According to the American Optometric Association, “beginning in the early to mid-forties, most adults may start to experience problems with their ability to see clearly at close distances, especially for reading and computer tasks.” This “loss of focusing ability for near vision” is called presbyopia and “is simply the result of the lens inside the eye becoming less flexible.”
Perhaps this presbyopia is inevitable, but I always feel better when I am doing whatever is in my control to prevent decline. Because vitamin A is fundamental for healthy eyesight, I decided to make sure I was eating enough of this important nutrient. Luckily, colorful fruits and vegetables, which are high-quality sources of vitamin A, are prolific in the summer months.
Vitamin A isn’t actually one nutrient. It is a group of related nutrients, each of which provides us with different benefits. There are essentially two forms of the vitamin: retinoids, or preformed vitamin A, found in animal products and carotenoids; and provitamin A, dark-colored plant pigments that are converted to vitamin A in the body.
● Food sources: Liver, shrimp, salmon, sardines, halibut, cod, beef, lamb, eggs, whole milk, whole yogurt.
● Facts: Retinoids are fat-soluble, so it is not surprising that the foods with naturally occurring retinoids also deliver naturally occurring fats.
● Health benefits: Carotenoids are antioxidants that prevent and repair cellular damage and aging and reduce inflammation in the eyes and elsewhere in the body. The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin are found in the retina of the human eye and have been shown to help prevent age-related macular degeneration. Carotenoids also may reduce the risk for cancer.
● Food sources: Spinach, kale, Swiss chard, other dark leafy greens, carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, apricots and cantaloupe.
● Facts: There are more than 500 carotenids, but the most important in terms of provitamin A is beta carotene. Generally, the darker and more intense the color of a fruit or vegetable, the more beta carotene it delivers.
Not only does vitamin A help with eyesight by producing the pigments of the retina and preventing macular degeneration, but it also helps create and maintain healthy skin (hence the popularity of topical Retin-A skincare products). Getting enough vitamin A from foods is important during the summer months when more time is spent in the sun. Vitamin A also builds healthy teeth, tissue and mucus membranes while supporting a healthy immune system. Plenty of good reasons to eat more colorful veggies!
Most people should not take a supplement to get Vitamin A; you can reach recommended amounts by eating a range of colorful fruits and vegetables, certain meats and fish and other whole foods. A person’s daily requirement can be affected by age, gender, medications, pregnancy, digestion and other factors.
I know that eating carrots alone will not return my eyesight to its previous 20/20 glory and that other lifestyle factors play a part in my presbyopia. Perhaps having a desk job for decades, and spending long stretches at a computer researching and writing may have contributed to my declining sight. So I looked into factors other than nutrition that might minimize my overall eye strain and potentially prevent additional degeneration. The American Optometric Association recommends:
●Avoid excessively bright light from harsh interior lighting or strong sunlight. Most offices are twice as bright as they need to be. Use low-intensity light bulbs and floor lamps instead of fluorescent lighting.
●Reduce glare with an anti-glare monitor screen, by closing shades and by painting your office a color other than white.
●Double-check that your computer has an LCD screen.
●Position the screen an arm’s length away and a little lower than eye level; the windows should be at your side.
●Adjust the brightness of the computer screen to match the room lighting. The screen shouldn’t be an additional source of light for the room.
●Adjust text size to meet your eye needs. Black text on a white background is generally the least taxing.
●Don’t forget your sunglasses when spending time outside on a sunny day!
So here I am — my sunglasses a regular accessory, my LCD computer screen at the right height and not too bright and spinach on the dinner menu. If my eyesight continues to betray me, at least I can genuinely say I tried.
First published in the Washington Post on Thursday, July 16, 2015.