Take these five steps to protect your eyes as you age

The eye is an amazing–and complex–sensory organ. Fortunately, there are some very simple things you can do to help protect your vision naturally.

In fact, there are five easy steps you can take starting today to help prevent the onset of serious eye problems such as cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and retinopathy.

Step 1: Get moving every day

Make sure to go for a daily walk or get some light-to-moderate physical activity every day. This “light” activity, so to speak, will help protect you against cardiovascular disease and Type II diabetes, two general risk factors for eye diseases.

Step 2: Protect your eyes when you go outside

As you know, the sun generates a lot of radiation, some potentially harmful. And the ozone layer of the atmosphere blocks most of it. But not all of it. Some ultraviolet rays still penetrate the clouds and reflect off rock, snow, sand and water. And these rays can damage your eyes and eventually cause cataracts of the lenses

So choose sunglasses that block 99 percent of UVA and UVB, two bands of UV light. Also, wear a cap or hat in addition to your sunglasses when out in the sun. A hat with a brim or cap with a visor will help block direct rays of the sun from getting into the eyes.

(Of course, you don’t want to block the rest of your body from receiving the sunlight. Your body needs exposure to two specific wavelengths of ultraviolet B light to activate vitamin D production in the skin. And researchers believe other wavelengths play an important role for the pineal gland and the circadian cycle.)

Step 3:  Keep off extra weight and cut sugar

Obesity can increase inflammation and raise the risk of high blood pressure, heart and vascular diseases, and Type II diabetes. And all of these conditions pose serious threats to your eye health.

High blood sugar, in particular, contributes to cataracts and damages small blood vessels that supply the retina. Eventually, it can lead to diabetic retinopathy.

So avoid sugars and carbs. And use generous amounts of spices like cinnamon and curcumin (turmeric), which balance blood sugar.

If you are diagnosed with Type II diabetes, make sure to take the safe and effective drug metformin, as prescribed by your physician. Metformin is the only prescription drug proven to reduce the side effects of Type II diabetes. Lastly, make sure your doctor closely monitors your hemoglobin A1C levels.

Step 4: Stay hydrated

Overall, it’s important to stay hydrated to prevent the eye and lens from drying out. But that doesn’t mean you have to drown yourself in glass after glass of water every day.

Coffee has always gotten a bad rap from misguided “experts” in part because of its supposed dehydrating effects. But new research shows it’s actually not dehydrating at all when you drink it in moderation (three-four cups per day).

In fact, drinking coffee gives you added benefits because it contains antioxidants that can help defend against damage to the retina and the lens, where cataracts can form.

In general, studies link drinking three to four cups of coffee per day with optimal benefits. But green tea is another story. My own calculations show it takes many more cups of green tea to obtain the levels of antioxidants shown to yield health benefits.

You can also stay hydrated on the cellular level with an herbal supplement called aspal. Research shows aspal and another ancient herbal remedy I call “lion’s tooth” have real healthy aging benefits as well.

Step 5: Eat the colors of the rainbow

Follow an eye-healthy diet filled with colorful, edible plants. The colors in plants are due to pigments, which by definition interact with solar radiation, or light.

Blue, purple, and dark, ruby-red fruits contain anthocyanins, potent anti-oxidants that help strengthen blood vessels–including those in the retina. Good examples include bilberries, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and plums (which also belong to the cherry family).

Of course, the yellow-orange-red vegetables contain high amounts of carotenoids, which also benefit eyesight. I helped discover the role of the carotenoids lutein and lycopene 30 years ago at the National Cancer Institute. Research shows these two carotenoids support glandular tissue, as well as nerve tissue in the eye.

Plus, eating fruits and vegetables helps slow digestion and absorption of sugars and carbs from the diet. They also contain many anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant constituents.

And don’t forget about omega-3s found in fish oil and zinc. According to a large clinical trial called the Age-Related Eye Disease Study, higher intake of omega-3s and zinc decreased the risk of developing macular degeneration in those at high risk. Though remember, always take zinc in the bioavailable form (as zinc monomethionine–linked to an amino acid that binds minerals).

Overall, strive to eat seven or eight servings of colorful fruits and vegetables each day. It sounds like a lot. But a serving is only about one cup. And a typical salad contains several cups of greens, typically along with one or two cups of other vegetables. So having a big salad for lunch gives you more than half of your daily quota. Have a piece of fruit for breakfast and as an afternoon snack, and a vegetable side dish with dinner and you’ve reached eight servings without making an effort