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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 AllAboutVision.com.


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

Six Bad Things That Can Happen If You Don’t Wear (And Care For) Your Contact Lenses Appropriately

Photograph: Richard Austin/Rex Features

I have been wearing contact lenses for about twenty five years. Overall, I’ve been very happy with them, and have found that they have improved my vision as well as my self-esteem. As a very nearsighted person, my glasses have the proverbial “Coke bottle” lenses. Even though I’ve chosen “ultra-thin” lenses, the refractory nature of the plastic causes my eyes to appear unusually small, giving me the appearance of a juvenile badger (they have pretty small eyes for the size of their heads – check out the photo).

Needless to say, I prefer wearing contact lenses – but I must confess that I’ve been somewhat non-compliant in wearing them according to my eye doctor’s instructions. I’ve learned a few things from my mistakes, and from interviewing optometrists Jason Pingel and Christi Clausson about other patients who have been naughty. I will summarize six of the most common mistakes that contact lens wearers make, and explain what the potential harms can be. You can listen to the full podcast of this interesting interview, here:

  1. Wearing Your Contact Lenses For Too Long – this was my biggest personal mistake. It’s tempting to wear your contact lenses beyond the recommended replacement schedule in order to save money, or for simple convenience. My contacts felt so comfortable that I’d wear them (don’t gasp in horror) for months at a time, even sleeping in them at night. But after a while my eyes started hurting when I took my contacts out, which just perpetuated the cycle of over-wear. In effect, I was depriving my corneas of oxygen for long enough to kill some of the superficial cells, so when I took my lenses out it was like removing a bandage from a wound. My corneas were sensitive to light, touch, and even the wind. This medical condition is called “superficial punctate keratitis” and although it’s reversible with eye rest, it is quite uncomfortable. If you wear your contacts for too long, this could happen to you.
  2. Using Tap Water To Re-Wet Your Lenses – Sometimes when a piece of lint gets in your eye or your eyes are feeling dry you may be tempted to rinse your lenses with some tap water. Although that seems harmless enough, tap water is not safe for use with contact lenses. Tap water is not sterile, and it can contain bacteria or even protozoa that can cause serious damage to your eye. Just as you would never drink salt water, you should never expose your contacts to tap water. The risk of eye discomfort, alteration of the lens, pH imbalances, or even infection is not worth the risk.
  3. Not Washing Your Contact Lens Case Regularly – At least a third of contact lens wearers report cleaning their cases monthly or less often. Obviously, mold spores and bacteria are not good for the eyes, so if you aren’t cleaning your lens case frequently you are putting yourself at risk for eye infection and allergies. Lens cases should be rubbed and rinsed with sterile solution recommended by your eye care provider, dried with a lint free towel or and allowed to air dry with both the case and cap(s) down before re-use.
  4. Not Changing your Contact Lens Solution – Dr. Pingel told me that many of his patients admit to “topping off” their contact lens solution or storing them in the same solution from the day prior. This increases the risk of bacterial growth in the solution and lens case. The way I think of it – it’s like having a surgeon simply wipe off her instruments on her gown between patients. It’s much safer for her to dispose of the instruments or have them sterilized before the next use, right? The same goes for contact lenses and their solution.
  5. Not Washing Your Hands Before Touching Your Eyes Or Lenses – Our hands are exposed to hundreds of different bacterial strains, molds, dirt, and chemicals every day. Not washing your hands with mild soap and water prior to touching your contacts is like touching your eyeball to a door knob. Why take the risk of introducing chemicals or bacteria into your delicate eye area? It’s very important to wash your hands carefully before insertion and removal of contact lenses so as not to increase your risk of infection, allergy, or chemical burns of the eye.
  6. Not Sharing Your Contact Lenses With Others (Or Buying Them Without A Prescription) – While that might sound like an uncommon practice, it actually becomes an issue around Halloween time. With cosmetic lenses that can make your eyes look like anything from a cat to a zombie, it is tempting to share lenses with friends. However, you should not purchase or wear cosmetic lenses without an examination by an eye doctor and a prescription to ensure they fit safely and comfortably. Delicate corneal skin can be scratched, irritated, or even infected by unclean or ill-fitting lenses. No one wants their real eyes to look scary, right? So please don’t buy lenses without a prescription or share your lenses with others.

For more information about safe wear and care of contact lenses, I highly recommend that you check out the Healthy Vision & Contact Lenses e-brochure. It is a terrific summary of all the most important do’s and don’ts of contact lens wear and care – perfect for double-checking on your safe use behaviors, or teaching your kids/teens about how to care for their lenses. Or you can use my blog post and podcast to badger them (pun intended), if that’s more convenient.

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

Eye Allergy Sufferers: Rubbing Your Eyes Is The Number One No-No

I’m afraid this is one of those do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do blog posts. I must confess that when my eyes are itching from pollen exposure I can rarely resist rubbing them. So I absolutely empathize with those of you who also fall victim to the sweet lure of eye-rubbing when allergies flare. But as a responsible physician, I must tell you that rubbing those itchy eyes is like pouring water on a grease fire. It only makes things worse.

Allergens (including foreign substances including pollen) like to stick to moisture-rich surfaces such as eye lids, eye balls, noses, and throats. Our bodies’ immune cells recognize these allergens and launch an attack to break down their proteins and remove them from the tissues. Specialized allergen removers, called mast cells, flock to areas that are heavy laden with pollen (or mold, pet dander, dust mite feces, etc.) Once they are near the allergens they break apart, spilling their acidic chemicals and histamines onto the invaders to break them down to remove them. These chemicals can cause stinging and itching sensations in the eyelid edges and other sensitive areas.

When we rub our eyes, we actually rupture mast cells at a faster pace due to mechanical traction. The result is that massive loads of acid and histamine are released into the already-sensitive tissues and the itching and burning often increases exponentially. So we rub harder!

As you can see, this is a vicious cycle that is best avoided. When your eyes become red, watery, and itchy from allergens the smartest course of action is to wash the area that has been exposed, flush the eyes with artificial tears, and try anti-histamine drops for itch relief. If you’re a contact lens wearer like me, try daily disposable lenses. A fresh pair every morning prevents possible allergens (that can cling to contacts from the day before) from being re-introduced into your eyes.

Let’s hope that pollen counts are more manageable next year, and until then we should all try our very best to remember the alternatives to eye-rubbing. I’m putting a bottle of artificial tears in my purse right now!

For more eye-allergy tips, please check out my recent interview with ABC News:

For further information about general eye health, please check out my Healthy Vision podcasts at Blog Talk Radio.

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

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 (www.InfantSee.org) can match you up with eye care professionals who will perform the exam at no cost to you.

Researchers Develop Computerized Contact Lens

img mid 52851 Bionic Contact Lens to Check Your EmailWe’re another step closer to integrating real time information into our vision. Researchers from the University of Washington and Aalto University Finland have engineered the first prototype of a computerized contact lens on which you can see information updates. They presented their findings today in IOP Publishing’s Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering.

The lens only contained one pixel, but by proving that the concept works without any adverse side effects, they can develop it into lenses with more pixels. This could eventually lead to contact lenses on which you can read your email and catch up on the news. A device like this could also Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medgadget*

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