Fergus Falls Optometric Center
"Family Eyecare from the Eyecare Family."
Dr. Mark D. Olmsted and Dr. Christine A. Olmsted
117 E. Lincoln Ave.
Fergus Falls, MN 56537
Appointments: 218-736-7555

Beverages and the Eye - 13 Feb 2003

Beverages and the Eye
13 Feb 2003

Beverages and the EyeThere is growing evidence that certain liquid refreshments may be beneficial to your eyes and health in general. We will start mild and go stronger as the article unfolds.

First let's talk about the source of natural degeneration in the whole body, including the eyes. Negatively charged oxygen ions called free-radicals cause cell damage and thusly lead to degenerative processes. They are caused by aging, stress, smoking, excess alcohol, and ultraviolet light exposure, among other environmental factors. This causes oxidation, our body's version of "rusting". It has been theorized that free-radicals damage cells in the small vessels behind the macula of the eye. This allows LDL, or the bad cholesterol, to attach to the wall of the blood vessel, creating deposits leading to macular degeneration (AMD). This is the same process that causes cardiovascular disease, but in much smaller blood vessels. In the eye this is starting to be called oculovascular disease. Antioxidant nutrients help our body neutralize free-radicals. Examples include beta-carotene, lutein, bioflavonoids and vitamins C & E.

Water, of course, makes up the largest part of our body's volume. This also applies to the eye. By drinking plenty of good old H20, we keep ourselves well hydrated, which helps people who suffer from dry eye syndrome. It's not the whole answer, but along with artificial tear supplements, water helps in the team effort. Also, by not getting dehydrated, things "keep moving" in the blood stream. People with AMD, may benefit by drinking plenty of fluids to decrease the cholesterol plaque blockage of the small blood vessels behind the macula.

While I haven't seen any definitive studies on green tea and the eye, it is a good source of polyphenols, which are good antioxidants. I have read that some fellow optometrists, who are heavily into nutrition, suggest two cups of green tea daily to their patients. It is good for us anyway, so I say go for it.

Grape juice of the dark variety is loaded with bioflavonoids, also good antioxidants. A study comparing grape juice to red wine for antioxidant effect showed that in a test tube, grape juice and red wine were comparable. However, in the human body researchers gave red wine the nod for better antioxidant effects. It was felt that the alcohol lead to better absorption of the bioflavonoids.

What?! Didn't I mention before that excess alcohol causes free radical formation? Yes I did. But MODERATE and I do mean moderate consumption of red wines and amber to dark beers appears to be good not only for our eyes, but our hearts. Of course, excess alcohol consumption is well known to be bad for the heart, the liver and the brain. High alcohol intake can also lead to optic nerve damage.

Before I go further, I want to stress that I am NOT suggesting that everybody should drink more alcohol or even any at all. It would be irresponsible. If you are on certain medication you may not be able to use alcohol in any amount, so speak to your family physician first. Also, people with heart disease should not just jump right in because of these studies without consulting their cardiologists or internists. Underage drinking is a problem everywhere and it is something that I do not condone. Some people have a strong family history of alcoholism, and those folks should be careful. Some religious groups do not allow alcohol consumption and I respect that. And for crying out loud...NEVER...EVER... drink and drive!!!

Studies suggest that one to two glasses of red wine may help decrease our chances of AMD. They also show that the benefit goes away as soon as the average consumption goes above three glasses daily. White wine doesn't have the same grape skin nutrients as red, so it has not shown to benefit AMD patients as much. A very recent study from the Journal of American Medical Association admits that moderate alcohol consumption helps reduce heart disease, due to increasing the level of HDL, or good cholesterol, to decrease plaque formation in cardiac arteries. This also makes sense with the eye's vasculature behind the macula.

A Honolulu study late last year showed that beer in moderation decreased the risk of cataracts and heart disease. The amber and dark beers had a better effect due to higher amounts of unspecified antioxidants (probably bioflavonoids) in the heartier brews. As with the wine studies, the benefit effect was lost if the average amount consumed was more than two beers a day on average.

If one can’t drink low amounts alcohol or chooses to abstain, a non-alcohol substitute would be the two cups of green tea per day and add the very potent antioxidant supplement, grape seed extract. Hit the grape juice too. Don’t forget to take a good, easily absorbed multivitamin in addition to a well balanced diet.

Two points that are worth repeating…MODERATION… AND…DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE!

Dr. Mark D. Olmsted