May 2019 Edition
While it takes some time for most parts of your body to warm up to their full potential, your eyes are on their “A game” 24/7
Digital Devices & the Health of Your Eyes
We’re in a new age of convenience and connectivity, and with it comes new health concerns. More than ever, our eyes are in front of screens – from smart devices and computer monitors to televisions and movie screens. And, more than ever, people of all ages are complaining of eye fatigue, headaches, blurry vision, dry eye, and twitching of the eye or eyelid. This is often referred to as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS).
Every part of our eye is vital to healthy vision – from the tear ducts to the cornea to the various nerves and muscles. And every part of our eye is affected by our habits, including the stress and strain placed upon them from using digital devices, whether at school, work or home. While research in this area is still new, current studies show that the blue light emitted from cell phone screens and similar devices causes damage to retinal cells. Scientists believe the damage stems from the higher energy level in the shorter wavelength of blue light, hitting the eye with greater intensity than other light sources.
Reduce Eye Strain While Using Digital Devices
Serious vision problems don’t necessarily happen all at once; they can creep up on us over time if we’re not careful. That’s why early – and daily – intervention is critical. The following strategies can help minimize eye strain and prevent CVS from becoming a problem for you now and in the future.
- Position your desktop computer screen 20 to 26 inches away from your eyes and a little bit below eye level. Hold smaller devices 12-15 inches from the eyes.
- Choose screens that can tilt and swivel. Use a device holder for smaller devices.
- Use the appropriate screen display for your computer; change displays between light and dark mode; invest in a high-quality monitor.
- Use a blue-light / glare filter over your computer screen or your glasses.
- Place a document holder next to your screen. It should be close enough to allow you to comfortably glance back and forth to the screen and document.
- Use soft lighting at your work space to reduce glare and harsh reflections.
- Take a 20 second break every 20 minutes. Look at objects in the distance, such as a picture on a far wall, a building outside, or a tree, for example. Blink often and exercise your eyes (see Therapy article, below).
If you’re concerned about changes in your vision or have experienced the symptoms of CVS, speak to your holistic eyecare professional about additional health steps you can take.
Food for Thought. . .
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi
That’s One Powerful (Sweet) Potato!
Here’s an interesting fact: one medium sweet potato provides 100% of your daily needs for Vitamin A, as well as a healthy dose of vitamin C, several of the B vitamins, plus the minerals potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc. That’s one powerful potato!
But that’s not all…
Sweet potato is also abundant in antioxidants, which help protect against inflammation and play a role in blood sugar regulation. The antioxidant Beta-carotene, which gives sweet potatoes their orange flesh, is necessary for the body to produce Vitamin A. We need Vitamin A for eye health, a strong immune system, and healthy skin. Research indicates that this tuber’s anti-inflammatory nutrients (anthocyanin) can be instrumental in protecting against the cellular damage and degeneration that occurs with age, particularly related to vision (e.g., macular degeneration) and the circulatory system.
Sweet potato color, both flesh and skin, can range from white to yellow-orange to brown or purple. There also are “firm” or “soft” varieties. Just remember, yams are not the same as sweet potatoes. The two are not even in the same “food family.” Sweet potatoes are harvested in the United States whereas yams are typically imported from Africa or Asia. Check your grocer’s labels and, if you aren’t sure, ask a store associate for assistance.
An Exotic Twist on Sweet Potato Pancakes
Shake up a traditional potato pancake recipe with an exotic combination of cinnamon, curry powder, and cumin. Breakfast will never be the same. Also consider incorporating these pancakes into a holiday menu for brunch or even dinner.
- 1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 teaspoons raw honey
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil for frying
- 1/2 cup milk (or your favorite non-dairy alternative)
- Shred the sweet potatoes and place in a colander to drain for about 10 minutes. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, raw honey, brown sugar, curry powder and cumin. Make a well in the center, and pour in eggs and milk. Stir until all of the dry ingredients have been absorbed. Stir in sweet potatoes.
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Drop the potato mixture by spoonfuls into the oil, and flatten with the back of the spoon. Fry until golden on both sides, flipping only once. If they are browning too fast, reduce the heat to medium. Remove from the oil and keep warm while the other pancakes are frying.
Vitamin A for Eye Health
Part of a family of substances called retinols, Vitamin A is important to our overall health and, specifically, our skin, immune system, and eyes.
When hearing about Vitamin A, most people think of carrots. It’s important to know that Vitamin A can be acquired from both plant and animal sources of food, and the source can make a difference in the type and amount of Vitamin A the body absorbs. In plant foods (including carrots), Vitamin A is in a form called carotenoids and has to be converted from this form to its active form, retinol. When acquired from animal sources, Vitamin A is more readily available to the human body. Our daily diet should include a mix of plant and animal-based foods.
The following foods provide Vitamin A in its most readily available form; they are listed in each category according to their highest level of readily absorbable Vitamin A content. (This is not a complete list, but a good sampling of high Vitamin A foods):
Meat and Fish
- Beef Liver
- Cod Liver Oil
- King Mackerel
- Sweet Potato
- Winter Squash
- Turnip Greens
- Sweet Red Pepper
- Goat Cheese
- Roquefort Cheese
There are dozens of other fruits, veggies, and seafood sources of Vitamin A. Those listed above contain 16% (cheese, fruit) and up to 200% (some veggies and fish/meat) of the daily recommended adult intake of Vitamin A in one serving. The daily recommendation for children changes from birth through age 18, so it’s best to check with your healthcare provider before giving Vitamin A to a child. While your practitioner may want to adjust the dose, here is a quick reference for daily recommendations
Even if you’re eating a variety of organic, whole foods, it’s possible you’re not getting enough Vitamin A. For some people, the body isn’t able to convert Vitamin A due to a problem with absorption or because of a medical condition (e.g., cystic fibrosis). Others may have a genetic factor that doesn’t allow them to convert Vitamin A. These situations reduce the amount available for the body to utilize, which often leads to a nutrient deficiency that may show up as health conditions of the eyes, skin, or immune function.
Vitamin A supplements are widely available but the purity and consistency of the supplement can vary. Some supplements will contain preformed Vitamin A; some will have beta carotenes, and some will contain a combination. Dosing Vitamin A is highly individualized and because it is a fat-soluble vitamin, it can accumulate to toxic levels in the body. Women who are of childbearing age or pregnant should be under a physician’s care if taking Vitamin A. As always, speak to your holistic physician about the best form and dose of a Vitamin A supplement for your needs.
Bilberry: Not Just Another Blue Berry
Bilberry and Blueberry: They’re both blue. They’re both tasty. And they’re both good for you. But compared to their sibling berry (the blueberry), wild-grown European bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) are more intensely sweet and have much more delicate skins.
Since the early Middle Ages, dried and fresh bilberry leaves and fruit have been used for managing diabetic concerns, gastrointestinal complaints, and urinary system infections. Extracts of bilberry are used to address age-related degeneration in the circulatory systems and diseases where inflammation is a strong underlying factor, such as heart disease and retinopathy. There’s also evidence that bilberry may help alleviate eye fatigue caused by extensive computer and video monitor use.
Bilberry fruit contains potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Particular attention is on the fruit’s anthocyanoside (aka anthocyanidins). These plant pigments act as powerful antioxidants and may help protect the body from the damaging effects of inflammation and oxidative stress.
Bilberries are a deep indigo, almost black in color. They have found their way into every imaginable culinary delight: jams, pies, sorbets, liqueurs, and wines. Adding bilberry to your daily diet is a delicious way to enjoy its health protective benefits: Incorporate a cup per day of fresh bilberries by topping off yogurt, oatmeal, or salad with fresh bilberry. For a delicious tea, simmer 1 Tb. dried berries in 2 c. of water for 20 minutes; strain and drink.
For specific health concerns, extracts of bilberry are available in capsule and tincture, both of which should be standardized to contain a specific percent of anthocyanins. Check with your health practitioner for the appropriate extract for your medical needs.
Yoga Eyes and You
The idea that certain eye movement patterns can correct vision abnormalities such as near- or farsightedness has been around since the 1920s. While there’s no scientific evidence to support these claims, exercising the eyes does have health benefits.
The eyes are supported by bands of muscles (the extraocular muscles) that control their movement. Exercising those muscles can improve circulation to the eyes, which helps reduce inflammation and minimize eye fatigue. Strong eye muscles also protect against the negative effects of vision overuse patterns, such as digital eye strain or frequent night driving.
Below are two eye exercises; the first is for general eye health and the other is for glaucoma.
Figure Eight Eye Exercise
You may have practiced this exercise, sometimes called “yoga eyes,” if you’ve ever taken a yoga class. This exercise should be done from a seated position, such as at your desk, while relaxing in your favorite chair, or in an easy, seated yoga pose.
- Pick a point on the floor about 10 feet in front of you and focus on it.
- Trace an imaginary figure eight with your eyes.
- Keep tracing for 30 seconds, then switch directions.
Exercise to Reduce Intraocular Pressure Related to Glaucoma
Perform either option A or option B in combination with the blinking technique, performed simultaneously. These can be done with or without wearing your glasses.
A. Alternate between looking at very distant and very close objects. For example, when seated or standing, alternate between looking at your thumb, then looking at an object that is farther away, such as a building or a tree. Repeat several times.
B. Alternate between looking right and left.
Blinking Technique. Very light and fast blinking, the eyelids are light as “butterfly wings”.
While not all vision abnormalities or medical conditions can be corrected by eye exercises, keeping the eye muscles strong, flexible, and nourished is essential to protecting eye health.