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Is There Such A Thing As An Eye-Healthy Diet?

Eye diseases and vision loss are becoming more common in the United States as diabetes rates rise and the population ages. Many eye conditions worsen very slowly and have no noticeable symptoms in their early stages. For this reason, getting an annual eye exam is extremely important. But is there anything we can do to prevent eye disease from a nutritional perspective? Experts believe that there is such a thing as an “eye-healthy diet.” I interviewed Dr. Jeffrey Anshel, President of the Ocular Nutrition Society, and Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, a leading nutrition researcher, to get their views on the subject. Please listen to the full HealthyVision podcast here.

Some of the my favorite learning points from the show:

1. Which foods are healthy for the eyes? The human retina contains about 1000 times more concentrated carotenoids (found primarily in plant pigments) than any other part of the body. Our eyes use these pigments to protect themselves from the photo-damage of sunlight. Carotenoids (including beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and zeoxanthin) are found in highest concentrations in dark green, leafy and brightly colored vegetables. Egg yolks are also a good source of carotenoids. Interestingly, our retinas have a predilection for omega-3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish) to protect the eyes from UV radiation. My bottom line – the most eye-healthy meal on earth is probably a salmon salad Niçoise (see photo image above)!

2. Are carrots good for our eyes? While carrots can be part of healthy diet, choosing carrots as our primary source of vegetable intake may not be a good idea. Carrots contain beta-carotene, which competes with other carotenoids for transport molecules. Beta-carotene is a pretty good competitor and can “bump off” lutein and zeaxanthin from getting transported to the retina. Adults don’t process beta-carotene as well as kids do, so too many carrots may not be a great thing after all (especially as we get older)!

3. Should I take nutritional supplements for the eye? It’s always best to get your carotenoids from real food. However, some people (who take blood thinners for example) cannot eat dark green leafy vegetables because they also contain Vitamin K which can interfere with the medicines. For those who cannot get sufficient carotenoids from food, supplements may be beneficial.

4. What is the connection between obesity and chronic eye disease? While obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, and diabetes can cause chronic eye disease, there may be another problem at play. Carotenoids are fat soluble, and so they are preferentially stored in fat cells rather than remaining suspended in our blood stream. When we have larger fat stores, that fat may “mop up” the healthy vegetable carotenoids that we eat, without allowing them to be transported to the eyes to support retinal structures. Some researchers suggest that obese individuals may need to increase their carotenoid intake with supplements in order to prevent eye pigment deficiencies and potential macular degeneration. Losing body fat is also an important strategy of course.

Other questions answered in the podcast:

* How does cooking impact the nutritional value of fruits and veggies?

* Is there such a thing as over-supplementation (especially with Zinc)?

* How many veggies do I need to meet my daily carotenoid requirements?

* How do I know which vitamin supplements to trust?

I hope you enjoy the podcast – and redouble your efforts to eat a diet rich in fruits, veggies, fish and eggs and maintain a healthy weight. Remember that even though your mom may have told you that Bugs Bunny’s diet was best for your eye health, Popeye’s veggie of choice is even better for you!

For more information about ocular nutrition, please visit the Ocular Nutrition Society.

For more information about eye health, please go to

Disclosure: Dr. Val Jones is a paid consultant for VISTAKON®, Division of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc.

Dr. Val: Back By Popular Demand?

I started medical blogging in 2006, and posted something new every day for over two years straight. I met some terrific fellow bloggers in those “early years”, and soon wondered if we might reach a larger audience if we pooled some of our blog content. This blog site (Better Health) was born in October 2008, and soon grew to have over 130 contributors! We developed a large following on Facebook and Twitter and partnered with such prestigious organizations as the CDC, Harvard Health Publications, and the American College of Physicians. We actually grew so large so fast that I had to hire a small staff to help me run the blog… Which became logistically challenging and pretty expensive, rather quickly!

Because Better Health has always been a labor of love, and not a well- oiled, monetization machine, I eventually had to close the doors. It broke my heart. It was such a shame that a collection of the best medical blog writing just couldn’t be supported financially – at least I couldn’t find a way to do so! In January 2012 I posted a farewell note and decided to continue my social media life on Twitter and Facebook instead.

A few days ago I noticed a large uptick in Twitter followers and was surprised to see that I had been recommended (by Healthcare IT News) as one of the top 10 physicians to follow on Twitter. In the article it commended my work as a Better Health blogger… the blog that I had recently shuttered.

I had been toying with the idea of starting a personal blog again because I found it rather challenging to say all I wanted in only 140 characters, and this new influx of followers gave me food for thought. What if I just keep it simple this time? What if I write blog posts at Better Health when the spirit moves (instead of feeling pressured to post something every day or to include 100′s of others in my blog posts?)

So that’s what I’m going to do. This is just me again – the way it all began. But without any regard for traffic, numbers, or popularity. Maybe only a handful of people will read my posts here. And that’s ok with me! So welcome back to the OLD new me. The cycle is complete?

P.S. I will continue to blog at Healthline to educate patients about their eyes, and I also hope you’ll listen in to my Healthy Vision radio show. Or follow @drval on Twitter?

Easy New Year’s Resolution: Get A Comprehensive Eye Exam

Most people assume that their eyes are healthy if their vision is stable, but this is not always the case. Eye doctors look for many different potential diseases and conditions during a comprehensive eye exam, and if you (or your children or loved ones) haven’t had one recently then maybe it’s time to make it a New Year’s resolution for 2012?

One CDC survey suggests that as many as 34.6% of adults over the age of 40 (with moderate to severe visual impairment) believe that they don’t need regular eye exams. This popular misconception may lead to missed diagnoses. Eye doctors look for signs of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, brain tumors, cataracts, macular degeneration, retinal tears, allergies and infections (among other things) each time they conduct a comprehensive eye exam. The exam offers a lot more than a simple vision check. And this is particularly important for children.

In a recent interview with the president of the American Optometric Association (AOA), Dr. Dori Carlson, I learned the surprising statistic that about 1 in 4 school age children have an undetected or undiagnosed vision problem. School vision screenings, while helpful, still miss more than 75% of these problems. And for those kids who are discovered to have a vision problem during a school screening, upwards of 40% receive no follow up after the diagnosis.

The eyes are more than a “window to the soul” but a window to general physical health. And the good news is that exams are relatively inexpensive and painless – so why not resolve to make them part of your yearly health maintenance routine, starting in 2012? Let’s make 2012 a year for healthy vision!

  • For more great information about eye health, please check out my Healthy VisionTM podcast interviews with national eye experts:
    • Tips For Driving In The Dark
    • Tips For Enhancing Vision & Sports Performance
    • Tips For Childhood Eye Health
    • Tips For Safe Wear & Care Of Contact Lenses
    • Tips For Protecting Your Eyes From The Sun

    Disclosure: Dr. Val Jones is a paid consultant for VISTAKON®, Division of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc.
  • Don’t have an eye doctor? Here’s a helpful database that you can use to locate one near you.
  • Can’t afford an eye exam for your child? The InfantSee program ( can match you up with eye care professionals who will perform the exam at no cost to you.

Daylight Savings Means More Driving In The Dark: Tips To Avoid Motor Vehicle Accidents

Did you know that your 20/20 vision may drop to 20/40 when you’re driving in the dark? That’s because your pupils dilate to try to let in more light, and in so doing, they sacrifice their ability to focus clearly. Night-time driving can be dangerous for many additional reasons, and I had the opportunity to interview two experts about these risks, and how we can reduce our chances of being in harm’s way when we turn our clocks back on November 6th.

Optometrist, Dr. Christina Schneider, Senior Director, Medical Affairs for VISTAKON® Division of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, spoke with me about common nighttime driving problems such as dry eyes, headaches, and eye fatigue – and what to do about them. We also discussed the risks of driving with an under corrected or uncorrected vision problem, and some of the available options and treatments available to improve our night vision

I also spoke with John Ulczycki, Group Vice President – Strategic Initiatives, for the National Safety Council, about safe driving tips. Please listen to the conversation here:

Traffic safety experts report that fatal motor vehicle accidents are three times more common at night. So how can we improve our nighttime driving safety? John’s tips include: Read more »

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