For many, our eye sight is not what it used to be. What can we do to help preserve our sight and fend off the potential problems that can accompany aging?

Good eye health and eye care are crucial for protecting our sight, preventing common eye disorders and treating eye problems early. Among the issues we may encounter as we get older are age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts and glaucoma. Interestingly, many consumers are not aware of the impact that nutrition can have on the health of the eyes, and the variety of ingredients that can be used in eye care and maintenance, which can be incorporated into a nutrient premix to fortify products.

Nutritional supplementation

A boatload of information exists from extensive research studies detailing the effects that nutrition plays in supporting ocular health. Unfortunately, for many of us, our fast-paced lifestyles don’t really leave time for a well-rounded diet that includes the necessary servings of fresh fruits and vegetables. This is where fortifying beverages with ingredients that have been shown to support the health of our eyes can aid in preserving our vision. Some of these include the following:

Antioxidants:Antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, are thought to help protect eyes against aging damage. When light enters the eye, it activates oxygen, which can initiate free radical reactions that damage the macula.

Lutein and zeaxanthin:Lutein and zeaxanthin are two carotenoids that are found in the eyes. They are concentrated in the lens and macula and have been reported to provide important protective benefits for the eyes. One of their functions is to filter out blue light. The lens and cornea filter out ultraviolet light, but blue light passes through, reaching the retina where it can create photo damage that contributes to the progression of macular degeneration.

Vitamin A:Vitamin A is a vitamin that plays an important role in vision. In the pigment epithelial tissues of the retina, vitamin A compounds bind to opsin proteins in the rods and cones. This produces the highly photosensitive proteins, rhodopsin (in the rods) and three iodopsins (in the cones), which absorb blue, green and red wavelengths of light. These photo-pigments are responsible for night vision.

Zinc:Zinc is a mineral that regulates the sensory perceptions of taste, smell and vision. It has been reported that the retina of the eye contains a higher concentration of zinc than any other organ in the human body. Zinc is required for the synthesis of rhodopsin, which also is known as visual purple. Zinc also regulates serum levels of vitamin A by controlling the release of stored vitamin A from the liver. Because vitamin A is essential to vision, a zinc deficiency also could affect vision by preventing the release of vitamin A.

Selenium:Selenium deficiencies may be associated with an increased risk of cataracts. The antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase, which requires four atoms of selenium per molecule, provides antioxidant protection in the eyes.

Bilberry:Bilberry is one of the most popular herbs on the market today. Bilberry has shown promise in the areas of prevention for diabetic retinopathy, minimizing the advance of macular degeneration and arresting cataract progression.

Ginkgo:Research has shown that people with AMD showed improved visual acuity after treatment with gingko. Gingko also reportedly acts as a tonic for the circulatory system, therefore improving the delivery of nutrients to the brain and eyes, enhancing elimination of the byproducts of cell metabolism and oxygenating the tissues.

Green tea:Green tea has long been used in much of the world as a popular beverage and a respected medicinal agent. Studies suggest that the chief constituent of green tea, epigallocatechin-gallate (EGCG), may protect vision in the following ways: protects retina, lens and aqueous humor, protects retina against UV damage, prevents cataract formation, protects against AMD and glaucoma.

Grape seed extract:Proanthocyanidins (PCO’s), the active constituent in grape seed, is a flavonoid-rich compound which is being heavily touted as one of the most potent free radical scavengers. Research has shown that PCO’s may benefit individuals with vision disorders such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, vitreous degeneration and corneal stroma ulceration.

Every day, new research becomes available that reveals the role nutrition plays in overall wellness as well as how it relates to specific areas such as the health of our eyes. An experienced food scientist knows that different nutrients or combinations of nutrients can pose formulation challenges and that there is no standard recipe to follow when it comes to incorporating fortifications into a successful end product. Using a custom nutrient premix can help overcome many of these challenges and should always be considered during the formulation stage of product development.BI