July 19, 2024
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The Importance of Maintaining Eye Health

Many athletic men, women and children are constantly looking for ways to “up their game.” Even with their very busy schedules, men and women spend countless hours practicing the sport they love before the “big game.” Children spend their after-school hours, weekends and summers participating in sports activities as well. They are all motivated to keep practicing to make themselves be better athletes and for their team to be the next champs! Besides practicing, they all try to keep up with the latest and greatest with the purchasing of athletic gear or clothing.

Besides for practicing for the sport you love, you must make sure you have healthy eating and drinking habits. In addition to this, you need to keep your eyes healthy. A recent research study recommends the most beneficial nutritional supplements for sports performance should include carotenoids. Carotenoids are natural pigments found in fruits and vegetables. These pigments give leafy greens and colorful fruits and vegetables their colors.

Carotenoids act as antioxidants and protect cells from the danger of free radicals that are produced in the body during physical activity. (Free radicals also are produced by stress, inflammation, UV rays from sunlight, pollution, cigarette smoke and just our normal body metabolism.)

The buildup of free radicals in the body can damage DNA, fats and proteins. It can also affect the recovery process from the wear and tear on the body from playing sports and sports-related injuries. In addition to carotenoids, other antioxidant substances that are important for sports nutrition include vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E.

As stated above, there are only three carotenoids found in the eye: lutein, zeaxanthin, meso-zeaxanthin. These carotenoids are just located in the macula, which is the most sensitive part of the retina in the back of the eye. The macula is responsible for visual acuity and color vision. It also is important for contrast sensitivity, glare reduction and visual reaction time—activities that are important for excellent sports performance. All three of the carotenoids protect the “macular pigment” of the eye. The macular pigment also plays a role in reducing the risk of macular degeneration later in life, which many people unfortunately suffer from.

There are many studies that support the importance of macular pigment. Research at the Waterford Institute of Technology in Ireland found that a daily nutritional supplement containing lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin improved the visual performance of people with normal visual performance but lower-than-normal levels of macular pigment in their eyes at the beginning of the study. Similar results were found by a study conducted at the University of Georgia and a study conducted at City University in London.

Based on this and other research showing the importance of the macular pigment on vision performance, many athletes use carotenoid eye supplements. And some professional sports trainers are recommending carotenoid supplements for their teams’ players. But before starting carotenoid supplements for sports vision, see your eye doctor.

By Maty Youngewirth, OD

 Maty Youngewirth is an optometrist with Vision Plus.

 

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