Helping Your Eyes Last A Lifetime
Can you imagine your world not being able to read, or appreciate the scenery,
or see what your family members look like? Many people with good eyesight
take this blessed gift for granted. Starting in their late ’30s most folks
experience a natural decline in visual acuity. Especially in this age of
computer technology, where 65% of all professionally employed adults have
a least some exposure to working at a computer screen, we need to protect
our eyesight. There are three basic areas which will be discussed here.
First is PREVENTION of failing eyesight; second is NUTRITION for the eyes;
third is EXERCISE to maintain eye health. Just like for any other part
of the body or mind, the best approach to health is prevention of disease.
Prevention and repair both can often be accomplished with proper nutrition
and adequate daily exercise.
A number of well-acclaimed books have been published in the past 10 years
on the theme of holistic approaches to eye care. A predominant theme of
some of these books (Love Your Blur, Beyond 20:20 Vision) speaks to those
who use corrective eye wear. In a nutshell, if you wear glasses and/or
contacts now, try to minimize their use to times when you need sharp vision.
Naturally, when you are reading or doing other precision work, or driving,
please do wear your corrective eye wear. But if you’re just lounging around
at home, or can manage to bathe, cook, garden, play ball etc. without your
glasses, DO IT. The more dependent you become on your glasses (or contacts)
the weaker your eyes become. By using your eye wear only when necessary,
you give your eyes a chance to practice focusing unaided, thus strengthening
them and allowing for fewer prescription changes in the long run.
The next tip for all you computer users in the arena of prevention is called
a SCREEN SAVER. Capital Office Supply in downtown Juneau or the Valley
and Yukon Office supply across from Nugget Mall can provide screen savers.
You can also order one from your favorite computer catalog. These screens
not only reduce glare bouncing off the screen, which means less eye strain,
but also reduce the amount of radiation coming right at you from the computer
monitor. Not that this is very much radiation, compared to having a chest
X-ray for example, but nonetheless worth minimizing. One of the causes
of cataract formation is exposure to X-rays. One more point about your
eyes and computer use. NEVER, never, never watch or try to focus on computer
text that is rapidly scrolling by on the screen for more than a second or
two. This is a useless habit, and very hard on the eyes. Focus on something
off to the side momentarily, the same way you do while driving at night
if another driver who forgets to dim their brights approaches.
A third way to enhance the longevity of your natural vision is to provide
a good light source for sustained reading and writing, or other close work.
If possible use full-spectrum light bulbs at your desk. Use a high wattage,
at least 75, for reading and try to have the light shine straight down onto
what you’re working on. If you’re working at something on your desk, arrange
to tilt it up to save your neck and shoulder muscles, then have a lamp with
a long arm positioned perpendicular to the work. If you’re at a computer
screen, ideally the light source would be behind you, coming across your
shoulder and hitting the screen at right angles.
Now here are some pointers on nutrition for good eyesight. Remember being
told that carrots are good for your eyes; that’s why rabbits never wear
glasses? It’s true. What makes carrots orange is a pigment called beta-carotene
and this is a precursor to Vitamin A. The scientific name for Vitamin A
is retinol because it has a specific function in the retina of the eye.
Simply stated, Vitamin A allows the rods and cones in the retina to adjust
to light changes, produce visual excitation and send images to the visual
centers of the brain. This mechanism was elucidated in 1950 and the work
won a Nobel prize. An early sign of Vitamin A deficiency is night blindness.
Carrots are indeed an excellent source of Vitamin A via the beta-carotene
precursors, but so are all darkly colored vegetables. Dark green vegetables
have lots of beta-carotene but the green of the chlorophyll overwhelms the
yellow and orange tones. The highest food sources of Vitamin A, in descending
order, are liver, carrots, sweet potato, spinach, apricots, winter squash,
cantaloupe, broccoli, crab, peaches. The RDA for retinol equivalents are
about 5000 IUs (international units). However, I consider a therapeutic
dose, for those with compromised vision, to be closer to 150,000 IUs. Women
who could become pregnant should not take higher than this dose, and if
in doubt use the water-soluble beta-carotene rather than fat-soluble Vitamin
A which stays in the tissues longer. Extremely high doses of Vitamin A
are known to cause fetal damage. This was discovered through the marketing
and use of the popular acne drug, Retin-A, which is a synthetic version
of Vitamin A delivered in very high doses. Just eat some dark leafy green
every day and you’ll be fine.
Another group of nutrients that have received much attention recently are
the so-called anti-oxidants. This can be a confusing term because of course
oxygen is critical to life, so how can anti-oxidants be helpful? Good question.
Like so many answers, the answer here is about balance and moderation.
Oxygen is critical to good health, and healthy eyes, but in moderation.
Most of the damage which creates aging is in fact done by oxygen. This
process is called oxidation and is very similar to what oxygen does to iron.
It makes it rust. Oxygen is only stable in paired molecules (O2) and must
be delivered to the body as such. All the hullabaloo about the ozone layer
destruction is about driving ozone (O3) into our atmosphere, which breaks
down to O2 and a lone oxygen molecule which is called a “free radical.”
These free radicals do whatever they can to hook up with another lone oxygen
molecule, even if it means ripping one off another stable atomic configuration,
which perpetuates the damage in a long chain of “free radical destruction.”
We are exposed to free radical damage in many ways, including eating fried
foods (fats are especially susceptible to free radical damage heated above
170 degrees), using spray can devices (whipped cream, hair spray), breathing
automobile exhaust, to name a few. Nutrients which have been shown to be
most protective against free radical damage, besides Vitamin A, are Vitamin
C (take at least 1 gram daily, preferably in buffered, powdered form),
Vitamin E (400 IUs daily), and the trace minerals Zinc (50 mg daily) and
Selenium (200 mcg daily). Many health food stores and natural pharmacies
have “anti-oxidant” formulations containing all these supplements.
Some pharmacies also carry eyedrops to soothe tired eyes that contain
the above-mentioned anti-oxidant nutrients.
Another very helpful supplement for blood supply to the brain, ears and
eyes is the leaves of an ancient plant called Gingko biloba. The leaves
look like little mittens, with a thumb lobe and a larger fingers lobe —
hence the species name biloba. Gingko and ferns are the oldest known plants,
and the only ones thought to have survived the last Ice Age. Much research
has been done, particularly in France, Germany and China on the Gingko species.
Because of its strong and reproducible ability to enhance blood flow to
the head, improve memory, eliminate tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and
enhance vision and hearing, it is being used for Alzheimer’s patients as
well as by people who are doing intense study or memorization. It works
great when cramming for exams! And it will help reduce or reverse diminishing
eyesight when used in conjunction with other preventive and nutritive measures.
Gingo biloba in capsule or dropper form is available at Rainbow (downtown),
Ron’s Apothecary Shoppe (Mendenhall Mall), or through the local Naturopathic
doctors (Glenna Wilde, Scott Jamison and myself).
The last section of this essay is devoted to describing some eye exercises.
Much of the work we do involving our eyes requires us to focus approximately
14 inches away from our face. This is a much closer range than the eyes
were designed to accommodate. In order to see in focus, both eyes need
to be directed at the object of our attention — the focal point. Many
small muscles all around the eyeballs help to accomplish focus. With a
focal point only 14 inches away, as you can imagine the muscles that are
called into play most vigorously are the one at the inner edges of the eyeball
— the muscles on the nose side of the eyes. What ends up happening over
the course of a lifetime is that these inner eyeball muscles are constantly
tightening up, thus becoming chronically contracted, while the outer eyeball
muscles are forces to stretch, and eventually become lax. This imbalance
in muscle tension around the eyeball can cause headaches, nearsightedness
(myopia) and reduced acuity. The best remedy for this problem is to consciously
RELAX the inner eyeball muscles and strengthen the outer eyeball muscles.
How? Easy. The very best way is to focus on objects that are very distant,
which requires that your individual eyeballs stay relatively further apart.
A good exercise to do throughout the day, especially if you’re working
at a computer, is to do “near-far jumps.” Focus on the end of
a pencil held in front of your face, then “jump” your focus to
a tree far away on a hill you see out the window, or the top of Mount Jumbo,
or whatever you can see way out there. Linger on the distant object for
30 seconds then back to the pencil for a few seconds and back out the window.
If you pay attention you will actually feel your inner eyeball muscles
Like any other muscle, it’s a good idea to warm up your eyes before using
them. one good way is to quickly rub your palms together, building up
some heat, then placing the palms gently over the eyes with the fingers
pointing up towards the hairline and the thumbs over the temples, and hold
them there until the heat penetrates in through the eyelids. Do this several
times at the beginning of a long eye workout — like a morning at the computer
terminal. You can also press quite firmly all around the bony orbit to
stimulate circulation to the eyes and the muscles that move them. The orbit
is the name of the cradle of bones that holds the eyeball that is prominent
in skulls, for those of you who have seen a skull. There are actually
6 different bones that form the eye socket, and all of them can be tender.
So give them some TLC today. You can also rest your chin in your hands
and use the middle fingers to firmly stroke along the eyebrows from the
inner to the outer aspect, several times in a row. Another eye strengthening
exercise which just takes seconds is to close the eyes, then move them in
a figure-eight pattern, first one way 6 to 8 times, then the other way.
Go slowly enough to explore the full range of movement.
You should have your eyes evaluated by an ophthalmologist sometime before
you turn 40. [Vocabulary note: An optometrist is not a physician, but one
who is skilled in testing visual acuity and prescribing corrective lenses.
An optician sells or makes optical materials.] Many people begin to need
reading glasses at this time because the tissues of the eyeball become flaccid,
and our eyeballs actually become longer, from front to back, thus making
a close focal point more difficult to achieve. Again, a word of caution,
don’t become prematurely dependent on reading glasses. After 40 please
have your eyes checked every few years as part of a regular physical exam
to look for early symptoms of cataracts, glaucoma, diabetes or other vascular
problems. Looking into the pupils back to the retina is the only way a
doctor can actually visualize your blood vessels without cutting you open.
The eyes are an accurate indicator of systemic health, and, as you well
know, are also the mirror of the soul.
Another small detail I can’t resist sharing is a pirate story. There is
a whole section of Traditional Chinese Medicine which has studied the acupoints
in the ear. The ear, in fact, contains the most densely concentrated array
of acupuncture points on the body. Briefly, the ear represents an upside
down fetus; the lobe represents the head, the outer bony portion of the
ear that sticks out from your head is the curve of the spine, and the inner
part of the ear, around the opening to the ear canal, contains the acupoints
which represent, and are connected to, the internal organs. Much of the
acupuncture work going on around the country in prisons and drug rehab centers
is “Auriculo-Therapy” which involves tiny needles used in specific
points in the ears. The point for the eye is right in the middle of the
ear lobe. As the story goes, when Phoenician (ancient Egyptian) sailors
were first exploring the world, staking out their territories and sometimes
looting and stealing, they went to China and learned a little about Traditional
Chinese Medicine. These men (mostly they were men) who became known as
the early pirates, experimented with improving their vision on the high
seas, they found that they could see further and more clearly when they
stimulated the eye point on their ear lobes. As so they began to pierce
their ears to have a more permanent stimulation of acuity, which evidently
worked. And so our children still learn about pirates as having rings in
Computer Eye Strain
Helping Your Eyes Last A Lifetime