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

The Heart-Eye Connection - 14 Feb 2005

The Heart-Eye Connection
13 Feb 2005

The Heart-Eye ConnectionThere continues to be more evidence suggesting that proper nutrition, health choices, and lifestyle are a factor in eye health. Macular degeneration (AMD) robs the patient of her central area of vision, by damaging the macula, which is the best seeing part of our retina. The early, dry form of the condition starts with small deposits in the blood vessels behind the macula. One theory suggests that these deposits start from damaged cells in the walls of the blood vessels, to which cholesterol plaque ends up attaching. This is exactly the same process that happens in cardiovascular disease, except on much smaller blood vessels. Some call this process oculovascular disease.

The relatively recent Paul study showed a connection between high cholesterol and AMD. A large group of random people was evaluated for AMD, while a group of people with known high cholesterol was also examined. The study showed that people with cholesterol issues had a much higher percentage of AMD than the average population.

Another study showed that if one had a Body Mass Index leaning toward obesity, some of the nutrients that we need for eye health are locked up in the excess body fat and can't get to the eye. The prime example is lutein, which is highly concentrated in dark green leafy vegetables and protects the macula from ultraviolet light damage.

When looking at the health of people in other countries and comparing their diets with ours, a few interesting things have come to light. Americans eat too much. We eat too many saturated fats, fried foods and simpler carbohydrates like white sugar and white flour. We have a much greater percentage of obese people than many other countries and more heart disease.

The Mediterranean diet, especially in Crete, follows the food pyramid much more closely than the typical American diet. They use olive oil almost exclusively in their cooking. Their carbohydrates come from whole grains and fruits, and they are much healthier than we are in their elder years.

Japanese live longer, more disability free lives than the rest of the world, even when 55% of them smoke and in spite of a significant jump in the amount of Japanese alcohol consumption since WWII. What gives? Well it turns out that the Japanese diet is high in vegetables and seafood. They also eat a lot more soybean products than we do. Also, only 10% of their calories come from fat.

Our bodies need fat, but some fats are better for us than others. Omega 3 fatty acids occur naturally in deep cold sea fish like tuna and salmon. They are also in superunsaturated fats like flaxseed oil and canola oil. Monounsaturated fats from olive oil are also better for us. By decreasing our use of hard margarines, shortenings, and heavier cooking oils, and increasing our use of the previously mentioned oils when cooking and by eating more seafood, we should have clearer blood vessels.

We know that high blood levels of cholesterol and being overweight puts one at risk for heart disease. We now know that these risk factors also affect our eyes. Therefore, it makes sense that lifestyle habits, which benefit our hearts, are also good for our eyes. A diet low in saturated fats along with complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, protein from plants, lean meats, and fish is beneficial for our whole system. If we make healthy food choices, abstain from smoking, and get regular exercise, we will not only be healthier but also decrease our risk for AMD.

Dr. Mark D. Olmsted