How do I boost my eye health?

Three experts suggest eye exercises, leafy greens, and herbal teas

As we age, our eye muscles may develop cataracts (clouding of the lenses) or macular degeneration (thinning at the center of the eye's inner lining that can bring about loss of central vision). Both conditions can be caused by genetics, hypertension, smoking, a high fat diet, or damage from sunlight. The most important thing to do for prevention is give your eyes proper rest. If you work at a computer, take a break every half hour and try this exercise: Cup your hands around your eyes to block light. Take a deep breath through your nose, then slow your breathing to four breaths per minute. Continue for three to five minutes. For another relaxing exercise, hold a pencil in front of you at arm's length and fix your gaze on it for a few seconds. Then shift your eyes to a near distance behind the pencil. Do this five times.

— J. Alberto Martinez, M.D., assistant professor of ophthalmology at Georgetown and George Washington University, in Washington, D.C.

One of the most important eye health discoveries in the past few years has been the healing power of greens like kale and spinach, which contain the phytochemical lutein — a naturally occurring carotenoid that may reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Lutein is fat-soluble, which means that you need to cook lutein-containing leafy greens with a little butter or olive oil to get the most out of them. Try to eat at least one serving (½ cup) of greens two to four times a week. Also avoid foods high on the glycemic index. A 2007 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that people who ate simple carbohydrates like cakes, cookies, white bread, or foods sweetened with sugar or corn syrup were more prone to eye damage and blindness than those who didn't eat simple carbs.

— Katherine Tallmadge, R.D., a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and author of Diet Simple (Lifeline Press, 2004)

TCM Practitioner
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we first look at the shen ("reflection of spirit") in the eyes. Then we ascertain whether the problem is connected to an abundance of yang (redness in the eyes) or yin (floaters or blurry vision). One of most common herbal treatments for blurriness is the goji berry: For tea, boil 10 to 20 grams of berries in two cups of water and let them steep for about 10 minutes, or just eat a handful of goji berries a couple of times a day. To treat redness, make chrysanthemum tea by steeping the flowers (one to two teaspoons in two cups of water) for five minutes, and put the flowers on your eyes. You can also drink the tea. For visual acuity, we combine these two remedies in one tea — equal parts berries and flowers (about two teaspoons each in two cups of water), bring to a boil, steep for 15 minutes, and then drink.

— Bryn Clark, Dipl.O.M., co-owner of the New Harmony Center for Health and Wellness, in Beverly, Mass.


Edited by Adam Bible; Photograph by Bonnie Holland

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