Keeping Eyes Sharp
A Holistic Approach to Vision Health
by Carrie Jackson
As the windows to the world, our eyes are sensory organs that work overtime. They allow us to take in light, see what is before us and send information for the brain to process. While regular eye exams are important, preventative and proactive maintenance is key to achieving healthy vision.
Dr. Marc Grossman co-founded NaturalEyeCare.com to educate professionals and the public about complementary eye care, which can supplement traditional methods. As both a licensed optometrist and acupuncturist, he believes that the health of the eye depends on the well-being of a person’s entire body. “I treat the person behind the eye, not just the condition. When a patient comes in with glaucoma or a cataract, I look at their history and lifestyle choices to see what could be contributing to it,” he says.
Proper nutrition is crucial for proper eye function. Grossman recommends what he calls a “vision diet” based on the Mediterranean diet, which cuts down on sugar and prioritizes organic, low-alkaline foods, leafy greens and fresh juices. “Carotenoids, found in red or yellow fruits and vegetables, are vital antioxidants for eye health. They include lutein, the yellow pigment in the macula that protects against certain eye diseases, and zeaxanthin, which helps avoid macular degeneration. These nutrients also absorb harmful blue light and are anti-inflammatory. The presence of free radicals and lack of antioxidants in the eyes is directly related to the incidence of many types of eye disease, including macular degeneration. Consuming antioxidants from food is ideal and can be enhanced with supplements such as CoQ10, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium and curcumin,” Grossman explains.
“Regular aerobic activity combined with meditation or another mindfulness practice is ideal to maintain and even improve vision,” he says. “Thirty minutes of brisk walking or another activity you enjoy four days a week can reduce the risk of cataracts, macular degeneration and other common eye conditions. Qigong, mindful breathing and yoga help the whole body reset and are low-impact ways to improve circulation.”
Proactively retraining the brain can substantially reduce vision dysfunction. Dr. Bryce Appelbaum, a pioneer in neuro-optometry, helps adults and children unlock their highest potential by remediating visual developmental delays that impact reading and learning, honing visual skills to elevate sports performance and reorganizing the “visual brain” after head injuries.
“We need to look at eyesight and vision as separate entities. While eyesight is the ability to simply see things like letters on a chart, vision is how your brain derives meaning from the world around us and directs the appropriate action,” explains the Maryland-based optometrist.
Through individualized vision therapy, Appelbaum’s patients learn how to train their eyes, brain and body to work together more efficiently. “Most functional vision problems are actually brain problems, and vision therapy teaches you how to use your eyes to retrain your brain. Through a series of exercises, we enhance skills like focus, depth perception, 3D awareness, eye movement control and visualization,” he explains. The first step is a thorough evaluation, and then, if indicated, personalized treatment is prescribed with doctor-supervised sessions in the office that are reinforced with exercises at home.
Appelbaum also helps professional and amateur athletes more accurately connect to their sport through vision. “From an early age we’re told to ‘keep your eye on the ball,’ but not taught how to do that,” Appelbaum asserts. “Sports vision therapy trains athletes to optimize critical components in their visual processing and reaction. We work with baseball and basketball players, gymnasts, skiers, even fencers who learn to coordinate and visualize the optimal movement in relation to their environment, equipment and teammates. With repeated exercises and self-correction, athletes learn to enhance visual reaction time, depth perception, visuospatial knowledge and hand-eye coordination.”
Monitoring screen time is vital to resting overworked eyes. “As a direct result of excessive screen time, we’re seeing a dramatic increase of nearsightedness in young children, as well as headaches, fatigue, eyestrain and motion sensitivity,” Appelbaum says. “I encourage patients to follow the 20/20/20 rule and take a minimum of a 20-second break every 20 minutes to look at something at least 20 feet away. This allows both the brain and eyes to disengage from the near visual stress and relax. In general, looking at larger screens that are further away will also lessen the strain.”
Taking a holistic approach to overall health and wellness will not only preserve but can also enhance our ability to see. “People should discuss visual issues and symptoms with their doctor and seek out functional vision testing, as vision could be the limiting factor in a number of conditions,” Appelbaum advises. “With mindful visual training and healthy lifestyle choices, we can maximize our vision and our life’s potential.”
Carrie Jackson is a Chicago-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine. Connect at Carrie JacksonWrites.com.
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