What are the healthy habits that protect our eyesight as the years go by? What helps reduce the risk of developing retinal degeneration? The research we are discussing today offers an answer to these important questions, emphasizing some habits to be avoided, such as cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, and others to be encouraged, such as introducing foods containing calcium. The study can be consulted online and was published in the journal Nutrients by a group of scientists from Taiwan (Chen et al, Nutrients, 2023).
Healthy habits that save the eyesight
In recent decades, various studies have been conducted with the aim of understanding which external factors, namely not related to genetics, are able to influence the development of eye diseases. Cigarette smoking is considered to be a major cause. In fact, cigarette smoke contains various toxic and carcinogenic compounds that act both indirectly, by activating processes inside the body, and directly, by depositing themselves on the ocular surface, with consequences such as vascular alterations, inflammation, increased release of free radicals and reduction of antioxidants. All of this leads to changes in vision as well as, in the long term, an increased risk of developing degeneration of the macula, which is the central part of the retina. Macular degeneration reduces vision and can cause significant visual impairment. The cases of macular degeneration among the population over 45 are constantly increasing, a fact that makes us understand the importance of studies such as the one we are talking about today aimed at understanding the external, and therefore modifiable, factors to protect the retina and the view. In addition to cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol consumption is also associated with vision problems, both in the short term, with dry and irritated eyes but also problems with night vision, and in the long term, with an increased risk of developing cataracts. Then, don't underestimate overweight. In fact, overweight and obesity can increase the risk of progression of macular degeneration, due to the high levels of inflammation and free radicals. Finally, diet, understood as food choices, also has an important effect on vision health. For example, excessive intake, through supplements, of iron and calcium has been shown to increase the risk of glaucoma, while a moderate intake of these minerals, such as through the diet, has been found to be protective. A low consumption of carotenoids and omega 3 fatty acids is associated with an increased risk of macular degeneration while antioxidants and some minerals such as copper and zinc have been found to be protective. We therefore understand how important it is to find the lifestyle choices that can affect the health of our vision, both in the short and long term. However, this aspect is not yet fully understood and much research still needs to be performed to allow us to arrive at a full understanding.
Taking calcium with the diet reduces the risk of macular degeneration, the study
The research we are talking about today focused on the association between a particular nutrient taken with food, calcium, and the risk of developing macular degeneration. For this purpose, data relating to the health of vision and to eating habits of 5119 people, average age 65 years and participants in the large National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey study between 2005 and 2008, were analyzed. What emerged was that a low dietary calcium intake is associated with an increased risk of developing macular degeneration, while eating more calcium-containing foods is a protective choice that reduces the risk of developing this type of retinal degeneration. The mechanisms by which calcium acts to protect the retina are not yet known and other studies will follow to shed light on this aspect. At the moment, however, it is hypothesized that a beneficial action may derive, at least in part, from the control of blood pressure by calcium. Then, another aspect to take into consideration is that an alteration of calcium also has a direct action on particular accumulations in the cells of the retina of molecules, called lipofuscins, which favor the apoptosis of the retinal cells, thus paving the way for macular degeneration.
Eating is a joy but it can also become a medicine, with due care. The important thing is to ensure a healthy and balanced diet, which does not include excesses, and introduce essential nutrients into the body with the diet and not with supplements, unless there is a real need indicated by your doctor. We have seen that what we eat can affect the health of our vision, even the future one. So now we don't realize it but silent nutrients and substances work inside us and can reduce the risk of getting sick over the years. Foods rich in antioxidants, such as fruit and vegetables, but also in omega 3 fatty acids, such as oily fish, walnuts, flax or chia seeds, copper, zinc and iron, such as cocoa, oilseeds, dried fruit, legumes and crustaceans, are protective, to counteract inflammation, macular degeneration and glaucoma. Today we know that a moderate and regular intake of calcium helps reduce the risk of macular degeneration. Calcium, then, is beneficial in many ways, not just for eyesight. In fact, this mineral protects the health of bones, of the heart, since it helps regulate blood pressure, of the colon, reducing the risk of cellular degeneration in this organ, and of the brain, ensuring correct neuronal functioning. Calcium is found in dairy products, such as yogurt, milk and cheeses, especially hard ones, dried fruit, especially almonds, sesame and chia seeds, but also kale, broccoli and watercress. However, to ensure adequate levels of calcium, it is also important to ensure a regular intake of vitamin D, which promotes the absorption of the mineral in the intestine. We know that the main source of vitamin D for the body is the sun, followed by food sources such as mushrooms, salmon, herring, tuna and eggs.