Vision Problems are Common, but Treatable
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), around 12 million people 40 years and over in the United States have some form of impaired vision. That includes cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, retinal neuropathy, refractive errors (nearsightedness and farsightedness), retinopathy, and night blindness.
While the symptoms of night blindness— blurred images in low light, “haloed” headlights from oncoming traffic, an inability to read menus in restaurants at night—can be similar for everyone who experiences them, the causes can vary greatly.
What Causes Night Blindness?
Our eyes contend with many challenges, inside and out. While the lens of the eye is front and center, the retina—located in the back of the eye where images are focused—is especially sensitive to free radical damage, too. Both are continuously exposed to situations known to trigger an increase in free radical formation, including ultra-violet light and blue light from electronics.
Over time, these factors can create problems with focus, color differentiation, and night vision. Diabetes, Crohn’s disease, cataracts, or glaucoma can also cause or contribute to night blindness.
Fortunately, there are nutrients that can protect eyes from damage, reverse night blindness, and restore low-light vision.
A and Zinc: Vitamin and Mineral Synergy
Vitamin A and zinc work in such synergy that it is difficult to separate their roles. Vitamin A is transformed by the liver from retinol to retinoic acid, and it is key for eye health, including the strength and integrity of the lenses and your ability to see in low-light conditions. Zinc is necessary to help vitamin A do its valuable work.
Low dietary intake of these nutrients can put someone at risk of night blindness and other eye problems, so there are good reasons why they should be consistently supplemented at optimal levels.
For example, individuals with certain digestive conditions, women who are pregnant, and people with cystic fibrosis can develop night blindness because they aren’t able to absorb enough nutrients from their diets to support proper night vision. However, supplemental vitamin A can often reverse this problem.
A human study found that women who were pregnant and experiencing night blindness were not just deficient in zinc, but in vitamin A, as well. While each nutrient was supplemented separately, women taking both vitamin A and zinc were four times more likely to have their night vision restored. In this case, zinc alone couldn’t improve the symptoms.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin: Critical Carotenoids
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports the fatality rate for older Americans is 17 times higher than the 25 to 65 age group. Much of that difference can be due to the way eyes recover more slowly from light glare (think of driving at night in the rain or on a wet highway) and from a reduced ability to see contrasts as clearly in low light.
Supplementing with two key carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, can improve night vision and protect the delicate structures of the eyes.
Protects from Blue Light and Oxidative Damage
Lutein and zeaxanthin are naturally concentrated in the macula, the central part of the retina where incoming light and images are focused in the eyes. While a diet of fruits and vegetables that are rich in carotenoids can help prevent vision loss, many people don’t get enough of these nutrients from food alone. A supplemental source is important to restoring night vision and keeping your eyes healthy.
For those who struggle with night driving, and other low-light situations, the nutrients could literally be a life saver. A double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study found that supplementing with lutein and zeaxanthin improved glare recovery time and contrast sensitivity, increased the ability to complete visual tasks in low light, and reduced night driving crash risk in just six months.
Aside from reversing night blindness, lutein and zeaxanthin have been studied for other vision-related conditions, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
AMD is the main cause of blindness for people aged 60 and older. As the name indicates, it affects the macula—tissue at the center of the retina that lets us see fine detail. Eventually, as retinal tissue breaks down and macular pigment levels decline, vision gets more and more blurred during the day and night.
Research indicates that diets rich in these nutrients may protect against AMD by boosting macular pigment levels—essentially rebuilding the material you need to see—and by fighting oxidative stress and inflammation that causes macular degeneration.
Additionally, since lutein and zeaxanthin are natural components of the retina, with such strong antioxidant activity, they also protect against the damage from blue light—the kind we get from the computer screens, smartphones, and televisions that dominate everyday life. Blue light emits a specific short wavelength that is especially damaging to the eyes in individuals over the age of 50, because it adds to the overall oxidative burden that older eyes have already encountered from UV light. And, of course, it’s very likely the increased blue light exposure in younger people may accelerate retinal damage much faster than we’ve seen previously. That’s why I think daily supplementation with lutein and zeaxanthin is so important.
Grape Seed Extract: Powerful Protection
Grape seed extract protects the delicate and precious structures of your eyes, including the lenses and blood vessels.
Protects Against Cataracts
Over time, damage to the lenses can lead to cataracts, a major risk factor for night blindness. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, cataracts affect over 24 million Americans over the age of 40, and about half of all individuals aged 75 and over.
Scientific research published in Molecular Vision found grape seed extract inhibits oxidative and inflammatory actions that would otherwise damage the cells of the lens. In fact, researchers noted grape seed extract could help stop cataracts from developing in the first place. Plus, grape seed extract reduces damaging inflammation to the retina and strengthens the pathway that transmits images from the retina to the brain.
Stops Retinal Damage from Diabetes
Diabetic retinopathy causes vision loss and blindness as blood vessels in the retina are damaged due to elevated blood sugar levels. Fortunately, scientific research has found grape seed proanthocyanidins can protect retinal tissues against these effects.
A one-year double-blind clinical trial found grape seed extract reduced waxy deposits in the retina in cases of retinal neuropathy.
Some of the most valuable compounds in grape seed are oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs), but they are only beneficial if they are absorbable. I prefer a grape seed extract that is standardized to be tannin-free with only low-molecular weight OPCs that are small and easily absorbed in the digestive tract.
Save Your Night Vision
Low-light vision issues don’t have to be inevitable. The nutrients I’ve outlined here will help you preserve your night vision and nourish your eyes every day. Eyesight is a remarkable gift we can’t take for granted. By taking appropriate steps today, you can keep your eyes healthy for years to come.