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Natural ways to improve your eyesight

Carrots are good for your eyes: fact or fiction? In this post, we'll be having a look at what's good and bad for your eyesight, and natural ways to improve your eyesight, which means fewer expensive visits to the optometrist to buy more glasses!

Things that don't look right

Computers and mobile phones.... they are pretty ubiquitous in our lives nowadays, and too many of us spend too much time with our eyes glued to a screen. Those of us that are a bit older (ahem) were probably told by our parents that too much time in front of the TV as a child would give us 'square eyes'. This would have to pale into comparison with the screen time that today's children are exposed to, with many kids using a tablet before they have even started school. So is staring at a computer or other device all day really bad for your eyes, or is this a myth?

There are a few things for us to look at here. First of all, there's the exposure to the light rays or glare. It's unlikely this directly affects vision, although it can contribute to headaches and insomnia. Another problem is that when we stare at a screen (TV, computer, phone...), we blink less. And if the content is particularly engaging or riveting (e.g. gaming or reading your Switch on Health blog), the number of times we blink decreases even more. Every time you blink, a film of fluid washes over the surface of the eye, cleaning it, lubricating it, and protecting it. Blinking less therefore increases your chances of having dry sore eyes, or even having a scratch on the surface of the eyeball. (We challenge you to not get self-conscious about blinking while you read this...)

Another potential problem of screen use is having our eyes being constantly focused at just one distance, instead of varying distances. See our comments below on your eye workout.

While not being directly related to vision, a more significant problem from screen time is likely to be the effect on your musculo-skeletal system, as you tend to carry your head in a forward and down position, which will contribute to all manner of postural problems and leave you looking like a hunchback when you're older, but that's for another post).

Anatomy of your eye

One of the reasons your vision might get worse is because the lens, which sits behind the pupil, loses its elasticity as you age. You'll know this is an issue if you start to struggle with near vision. A good example would be finding it difficult to read labels on food packaging. It's not so much that the writing is too small. It's more that you are unable to focus on something close to your eyes. But if the writing is small, we bring it closer to our eyes to read it! To focus on something close, the lens needs to spring back into shape. And since it becomes less 'springy' with age, you begin to hold small labels further away from your eyes to be able to bring the writing into focus. See?

The retina, which lines the back of the inner surface of your eyeball, is a myriad of tiny blood vessels, and unfortunately these blood vessels are easily damaged, and when they are, the receptors for our vision that rely on these blood vessels suffer as a result.

Our main culprits affecting the health of these blood vessels are free radicals and inflammation. To join a couple of dots here, this means you'll want to not smoke (duh!), not consume 'bad' fats (fried food, processed foods, oils heated to a high temperature, chips and biscuits etc), and do your best to avoid being diabetic! Having elevated blood sugar levels (think high carb diet, being overweight, and not getting enough exercise) greatly increases the chance of damage to these blood vessels, and many diabetics suffer deteriorating vision as a result.

A workout for your eye muscles

Inside your eyes, and attached to your eyeballs, are some of the tiniest muscles in the body. And just as you need to workout all your other muscles in the body to keep them strong and healthy, you should be doing the same with your eye muscles. A quick workout for the external eye muscles is just to look up as far as you can (without moving your neck!), then down, then left, then right, then top-left corner, bottom right corner, top right corner, bottom left corner. Simple. Takes a few seconds. But while this helps your external eye muscles, it doesn't do a great deal for your vision. To workout the internal eye muscles, you just need to switch your vision from near to far, and a couple of points in between. So, if you work at a computer, glance up occasionally and focus on something in the distance. (Great if you have a window desk!). Just practice focusing on up close, normal, bit further away, and really far away. (Like Sesame Street...) This constant adjustment works out the tiny muscles responsible for altering the lens in your eyes, helping to maintain its elasticity into the future. Use it or lose it!

Which foods are good for your eyesight?

Everyone knows carrots are good for your eyes, right? Is it true? Or is it something your grandmother made up to make you eat your carrots? And if you cut a carrot in half and look at it, the centre looks a bit like an iris. Is that significant?

Carrots are high in beta-carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A. It is a fact that we need vitamin A for effective vision, so there is some truth behind carrots being good for your eyesight. When the connection was made hundreds of years ago between a carrot looking like an iris, and therefore being good for your eyes, they were right, up to a point. A deficiency in vitamin A will cause eye problems, but if you don't have a deficiency, eating more carrots won't necessarily make your eyesight better. See what we mean?

Carrots aren't the only food to contain vitamin A. A better source is liver, but most people can't stand the sight of liver and find carrots a bit more palatable. Note that if you eat a lot of carrots, you may start to develop a slightly orange complexion. True! Give it a go. (Don't worry, the effects don't last forever, so you won't end up looking like an orange version of Violet Beauregarde).

There is actually more to carrots than meets the eye. Carrots also contain lutein, an antioxidant that is actually found in higher levels in the eyes. Antioxidants help to protect against free radical damage, so a diet that is high in fresh fruit and vegetables will be beneficial (not just for your eyes but everything else!) Go for the ones that are brightly coloured - red, blue, orange... carrots, papaya, paw-paw, pumpkin, broccoli, sweet potatoes, strawberries, blueberries, cherries... yum! Wouldn't that look good on your plate?

There's even more to this picture though. Vitamin A, and our antioxidant vitamin E, are both fat soluble vitamins. This means you'll absorb them better if there are other fats present in your meal, so you could add a high quality oil to your salad (such as wheatgerm oil, which is particularly high in vitamin E). Avocado is another great choice, since it contains vitamin E as well as good fats to help you absorb vitamin A.

High quality fish oils will also help to decrease inflammation, so will help to protect those blood vessels. Grilled salmon with salad would be a feast for your eyes.

Other natural remedies for your eyesight

Vaccinium myrtillus, commonly known as Bilberry, is the number one herbal medicine for vision. Some of its action is attributed to its high antioxidant properties, but it seems that antioxidants alone don't explain its success. In other words, if you took the same level of antioxidants from somewhere else, they probably wouldn't work quite as well as they do in Bilberry. It appears to have a particular affinity for the eyes.

Ginkgo biloba, commonly known as Ginkgo (and often spelled incorrectly) is another antioxidant herb that is also very good for general and micro-circulation, making it beneficial for the eyes on two counts.

Another herbal medicine that is reportedly beneficial for the eyes is Euphrasia officinalis, also known as Eyebright. And with a name like that, is it any wonder that it's apparently good for the eyes?

Then there's exercise (of course). Good for pretty much everything, including cardio-vascular health, therefore those tiny blood vessels. Looks good to us.

What's up doc? The surprising truth about the carrots and night vision story...

Now that we've explored the connection between carrots and eyesight, did you know..... In World War II, the British developed and started using radar to shoot down enemy aircraft at night time. This gave them a significant edge. To keep this new technology a secret, they spread the myth that the reason they were able to successfully spot enemy planes at night was because they ate a lot of carrots, which improved their night vision! Cities also had 'blackouts', meaning you weren't allowed to have the lights on after dark as it would enable enemy planes to see where they should drop their bombs. Plus, back in those days, food was scarce, and carrots would have been economical and easy to grow. So convincing the population to eat carrots to be able to see in the dark made sense! See?

(Our editor apologises for the number of times the writer said, "see?" or made other such cliches. This wasn't our vision for this blog. Eye know, right?)

Want to learn more about natural medicine?

If you want to learn more about complementary medicine, Switch on Health has several short courses and accredited qualifications that you will love, including Advanced Diplomas in Nutrition, Herbal Medicine, Naturopathy and Homeopathy. Browse the short courses or learn more about their accredited Advanced Diploma programs.


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