Natural disasters, whether it is drought, flooding or earthquakes, are bad news for us. Not only do they lead to mortality, but have a huge negative impact on those who survive them. Homelessness, hunger and disease are all common in the aftermath. Failing food crops, loss of livestock and depleted fish stocks can all lead to malnutrition, not just in terms of calorie and protein intake, but a range of other nutrients essential to health. One aspect of our health that will suffer as a result will be that of our eyes and without good vision we will struggle. So which nutrients vital to eye health will we be missing out on?
Lutein and Zeaxanthin
These are two carotenoids that naturally occur together in many plants and are responsible for their colour. Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale and broccoli are particularly rich in Lutein and Zeaxanthin, but sweetcorn, squash and oranges are also good sources. They are deposited in the macula, retina and lens of the eye and function as antioxidants. Their role is protecting cells of the eye from damage by chemicals generated within the body from naturally occurring reactions and also those from the environment, which are today aplenty. They also work to filter out high-energy wavelengths of light that could otherwise damage the eye. Without an adequate intake of Lutein and Zeaxanthin the eye is left very vulnerable to damage.
Another antioxidant vitamin, Vitamin C is present in most fruit and vegetables, but richest in citrus fruits, green vegetables and berries. Vitamin C is essential to maintain the health of the blood vessels of the eye, without which the cells of the eyes are deprived of oxygen and nutrients, so are unable to function. As Vitamin C is also required by the gut to absorb iron, a deficiency can lead to anaemia and further deterioration in sight.
If crops of cereals and sweet potatoes fail, a deficiency in Vitamin E is likely, though if you can lay your hands on some nuts and seeds you might be spared. Vitamin E is a further antioxidant, which protects DNA and cell membranes in all tissues including the eye. If these two elements of the cells in the eye are damaged, things will go haywire as far as your sight goes.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Depleted fish stocks, which admittedly is more likely related to man’s overfishing and pollution, our intake of omega-3 fatty acids will plummet. Omega-3 fatty acids are most commonly found in oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and sardines and as they are an important component of cell membranes and the nervous system, are essential for maintaining eye function. They are particularly important during pregnancy for eye development, so inadequate intake during this crucial time by the mother is likely to have a big impact for their child’s future eyesight. Although there are a few plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as green leafy vegetables, rapeseed oil, flaxseed oil and algae, all are poorly converted to the form that the body prefers to use.
If livestock and seafood go, you’ll struggle to get enough zinc, which is found in largest amounts in oysters, lobster, beef and pork. Zinc has many roles in the body, but in relation to eye health is essential for transporting Vitamin A to the eye from the liver, allowing the eye to produce melanin, which protects it from damage by UV light. With the disappearing ozone layer and consequently increased UV light, this is very bad news for eye health.
So now you know the five nutrients particularly essential for sight and where they come from, stock up on your intake, as you need to get it while you can.