Eye Health : Smoking and Diet

Julie Breen

It's a New Year, February .......it seems that everyone is still trying to stop smoking, eat more healthily, lose weight......sometimes all 3 at the same time!

As we're all being bombarded by messages about the health risks of smoking and being overweight, I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon and tell you about the importance of not smoking and a good healthy diet in maintaining the health of your eyes and continuing to see clearly. 

And  it's Age-related Macular Degeneration Awareness month....the biggest cause of acquired blindness in the UK (linked to smoking and poor diet); a very appropriate time to deliver this message. 

It seems that the public health message about the role of smoking in increasing the risks of cancer,  stroke and heart disease are everywhere. But a frightening statistic that's not often discussed is that if you are a smoker you are twice as likely to go blind compared to a non smoker!

Also a healthy diet is very important to maintain eye health. 

It's all down to free radicals and anti oxidants. Free radicals are the bad guys and anti oxidants get rid of them. We all have a certain amount of free radicals in our bodies, but smoking ( more precicely the products of combustion in smoke) pushes their number WAY up.  And a diet rich in anti oxidants neutralises the bad guys and stops them damaging our tissues. Unfortunately, a smoker would never be able to eat enough healthy stuff to combat the chemicals in smoke that are harmful. So if you are a smoker and you want to protect your eyes, quitting is the best solution, I'l be talking more about this in Eye Health Week in September and Stoptober. 

The damage caused by free radicals is particularly dramatic in the lens of the eye causing cataract and at the macula in the eye where we have our detailed, colour vision. This latter effect causes Age- related Macular Degeneration ( AMD) to be worse and  progress faster than it would otherwise be. As it's name suggests, it's strongly linked to age, but smoking makes it much worse in many cases. 

Two pieces of research (AREDS and AREDS2) have shown that, when someone doesn't smoke and has moderate AMD, taking a specific combination of vitamins and supplements can help reduce the progression of the disease. 

The two products available in the UK with this formulation are EyeBar and  Viteyes 2; both are available at IntelliSight Opticians. 

There isn't any harm in taking other supplements if you have AMD, or taking supplements 'just in case' if you have a strong family history of AMD, but the science only supports the taking of the AREDS formulation, and only those with moderate AMD were shown to get any benefit. 

Of course, a healthy diet is also extremely important. A diet full of green veggies; broccoli, curly kale, spring cabbage.......  is great. For eyes specifically, opticians recommend at least one helping of fresh spinach per week; it's high in Lutein (very good for the macula). We also recommend tomatoes as a compound called Lycopene found in them is also very good for eye health. Very oddly though, the more tomatoes are processed, the more concentrated the lycopene becomes, so tinned ones are better for you then fresh ones, puree is better than tinned ones. Sounds like an Italian diet to me!

In summary, if we all needed another extremely good reason to give up smoking and maintain a healthy diet, then preserving our sight has got to be it. 

If you are a smoker, then stopping is the only way to reduce your risk of losing your sight.

Eat a diet brimming with green veggies, tomatoes and all sorts of fresh fruit and other veg. 

Take vitamin supplements if you like, but only those non smokers with moderate AMD are shown scientifically to benefit.

And if you're at all worried about your eyes, please don't hesitate to get in touch.