A long lifespan is a nearly universal goal. But the more birthdays you celebrate, the more health issues you may face, especially when it comes to the most vulnerable parts of the body – the skin and eyes. While we cannot entirely prevent the cellular breakdown that occurs to our eyes over the years, we can take steps to delay the onset and drastically reduce the severity. And according to Rafael Trespalacios, MD, Lead Surgeon and Medical Director of Brevard Eye Center, it all starts with limiting our exposure to damaging factors and taking supplemental steps to buffer our biological defenses.
When it comes to aging diseases of the eye, Macular Degeneration looms large. According to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation, “Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss and affects more than 10 million Americans – more than cataracts and glaucoma combined.” Caused by the deterioration of the center of the retina, Macular Degeneration involves the loss of central vison in the eye, which impacts the ability to drive, read or recognize faces. Those affected by advanced Macular Degeneration are considered legally blind, although they maintain peripheral vision. There is currently no cure for Macular Degeneration.
“The truth is, if we live long enough, we will all be affected by Macular Degeneration,” explains Dr. Tres. “It’s an aging disease, and there are things about aging that are inevitable – tissue gets thinner and more fragile, things break down. But there are choices we make before we reach old age that have a huge impact on when our macula (the center of the retina) begins to degenerate and how quickly it progresses.”
The eye is a complex and amazing organ that ages similarly to our skin. Just as our skin gets thinner as we grow older, with some thicker patches and uneven tone, our eyes atrophy with age. The steps to slow this process down include quitting smoking, eating an abundance of leafy green vegetables and reducing our exposure to “blue light,” the light emitted by electronics.
“The idea is to address modifiable risk factors,” Dr. Tres says. “Smoking breaks down collagen, which weakens the integrity of the retina. It’s one of the most crucial risk factors for Macular Degeneration. Eating a lot of leafy greens buffers the biologically active tissue in the back of the eye, so it doesn’t degenerate as quickly.”
“And there is more and more evidence that the blue light from our cell phones, laptops, and other electronics plays a role in this disease,” continued Dr. Tres. “So, change the setting on your devices to ‘night mode’ and get blue-blocking film on your glasses. It’s simple lifestyle changes like these that can delay the onset or lessen the severity of Macular Degeneration.”
As an additional protective step, carotenoids – pigments that provide color in many fruits and vegetables – can be taken as supplements that, along with a healthy diet, can protect eyes from the damaging effects of blue light and reduce the risk of developing Macular Degeneration. Brevard Eye Center was the first ophthalmologist practice in Florida and remains the only one in Brevard County that can measure the level of carotenoids and macular pigment in your eyes to establish a baseline reading, provide carotenoid supplements to improve the pigment’s thickness and then retest your level to measure improvement.
“Carotenoid supplements can actually improve the performance of your eyes – professional baseball players utilize them to lessen their reaction time,” says Dr. Tres. “There are vitamins specifically made for children’s eyes, because the earlier you strengthen pigment level, the better. It’s one more layer of care to delay the onset of Macular Degeneration.”