Vinpocetine, Lutein, Taurine, and More Can Help

Prevent Age-Related Vision Decline

ost people don't understand the significance of eye health - many don't pay their eyes any attention until a problem arises. Just as it is crucial to maintain ideal weight, cholesterol, and avoid heart disease, it is equally important to prevent the deterioration of vision.

Arguably our most valuable sense, vision allows us to interact with the world and to relish the variety of light and color around us. Preventing age-related vision deterioration should be as high a priority as any other aspect of our health - yet most people are not aware that eye health is achievable and maintainable beyond the expectations of conventional medicine. Moreover, new research indicates that the use of dietary supplements such as vinpocetine, lutein, and taurine, among others, can contribute significantly to the improvement and preservation of visual health.

A LOOK AT THE EYE
The eye is a highly specialized organ. The lens and the retina form the two major components of our vision machinery. Located at the front of the eye, the lens, composed primarily of protein and water, transmits light and helps to focus it on the retina, a delicate layer of cells at the back of the eye that is stimulated by light and sends visual signals to the brain. The retina has many photoreceptors - light-sensitive organs of two types: rods, responsible for black-and-white vision; and cones, responsible for color vision.

Anatomy of the eye.

NUTRIENTS CAN HELP PREVENT CATARACTS
As the body ages and the damaging effects of sunlight, pollutants, and our own metabolic processes accumulate, the eye undergoes changes. Proteins inside the lens begin to clump together, causing part of the lens to cloud. This blocks some light from entering the eye and reaching the retina. This clouding eventually forms a cataract, resulting in dull and blurry vision; unchecked, it can lead to blindness.

More than half of all adults over the age of 65 have cataracts in one or both eyes. Eventually, everyone gets cataracts - it's an age-related process, albeit one that can be retarded to a significant degree. Conventional treatment involves surgery to remove the lens and replace it with an artificial one, but nutrients such as vinpocetine, lutein, and taurine can help prevent cataract formation in the first place.

MACULAR DEGENERATION IS AGE-RELATED AND PREVENTABLE
Aging also damages the retina. Well over 10 million Americans have some degree of age-related macular degeneration, a disease that affects the macula, a small spot near the center of the retina. It is an extremely sensitive region that helps facilitate detailed, fine visual activities such as reading, color vision, and the recognition of faces. In macular degeneration, the light-sensitive cells in the retina begin to deteriorate. In the worst manifestation of the disease, the wet form, abnormal blood vessels proliferate beneath the retinal area around the macula. These new vessels are fragile, tending to leak and break, causing a blurred spot, or hole, in the center of the visual field.

Conventional treatment for macular degeneration involves laser surgery to destroy the abnormal vessels. This does not address the cause of the disease, but can delay its progression. However, nutrients such as vinpocetine, lutein, and taurine may help prevent the need for surgery.

OXIDATIVE STRESS: THE CAUSE
Together, cataracts and macular degeneration are the most common age-related eye disorders. Although no one knows the complete origin of these disorders, oxidative stress plays a major role in both.

Oxidative stress can be caused by various forms of internal physiological stress due to everyday activities, improper diet, smoking, and air pollution. It can also result from exposure to ultraviolet light, toxic chemicals, infection, and smoke inhalation, as well as from excessive levels of iron and copper. All these factors lead to free radicals, toxic substances that damage cells.

Additional Vision Protection
The high price of a fish dish may be justified, according to a recent study from Harvard.1 Results showed that eating fish, especially tuna, may prevent development of age-related macular degeneration. Eunyoung Cho, M.D., of the Harvard School of Public Health, and colleagues studied 567 men and women with macular degeneration and a visual loss of 20/30 or worse. Over a period of several years, the investigators questioned the participants about their diets and calculated the types of fat and the total fat content they ingested.

Results showed that those who ate higher amounts of fat had an increased risk of macular degeneration. However, those who ate fish, especially tuna, reduced their risk of the disease. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a specific fat found in fish, seemed especially beneficial in improving retinal function. DHA is found in high concentrations in the retina. It is believed that reduced DHA levels can cause toxic product accumulation that results in increased shedding of photoreceptors, thus diminishing visual acuity.2

Another study has shown an inverse correlation between the amounts of fish eaten and age-related macular degeneration.3 In other words, those who ate the most fish had the least amount of vision decline, thereby halting or slowing the deleterious effects of aging on the eyes.

References

  1. Cho E, Hung S, Willet W, et al. Prospective study of dietary fat and the risk of age-related macular degeneration. Am J Clin Nutr 2001;73:209­-18.
  2. Bazan NG. The metabolism of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the eye: the possible role of docosahexaenoic acid and docosanoids in retinal physiology and ocular pathology. Prog Clin Biol Res 1989;312:95­-112.
  3. Smith W, Mitchell P, Leeder SR. Dietary fat and fish intake and age-related maculopathy. Arch Ophthalmol 2000;118(3):401-­4.

Free radicals generated by exposure to sunlight can damage various components of the lens. Sunlight also causes changes in the retina, including oxidation of the protective fatty coating that surrounds the photoreceptors. As you would expect, both smoking and sunlight exposure are risk factors for age-related eye disease.

A recent study revealed a relationship between the risk of early macular degeneration and the amount of leisure time spent outdoors during the subjects' teen and 30-something years.1 People who spent five or more hours per day outdoors in the summertime during these periods had a greater risk of developing macular degeneration. Blonds and redheads were slightly more likely to develop early macular degeneration than were brunettes. This may be because their lighter pigmentation affords less protection from the damaging effects of sunlight.

ENTER THE ANTIOXIDANT NUTRIENTS
Antioxidant nutrients are substances that help protect cells from oxidative stress and counteract the harmful effects of sunlight and other insults to the body. Inherent in many types of food, particularly fruits and vegetables, these antioxidants play a crucial role in preventing age-related diseases of the eye.2

Vinpocetine is an extract from the seeds of the periwinkle plant (Vinca minor), which has been used as a ground-cover plant for centuries. In the human body, vinpocetine acts as a cerebral vasodilator, optimizing blood flow to the brain.3 As a result, it acts as a powerful memory enhancer and can help protect against age-related cognitive decline. It also has specific effects on the eyes and has been shown to improve night vision and prevent or improve age-related macular degeneration. Vinpocetine may also prevent or relieve glaucoma, in which pressure builds within the eye and damages the optic nerve.

Lutein is a carotenoid found in spinach and other green leafy vegetables.Carotenoids are another class of compounds that are known to have beneficial effects on the eyes. Along with another carotenoid, zeaxanthin, lutein is a major component of macular pigment.

Oxidative stress caused by smoking reduces the density of macular pigment. This risk factor for macular degeneration allows blue-light damage to the retina. Lutein is believed to increase the macular pigment in most eyes and to have a protective effect against macular degeneration. In a recent study, lutein was found to improve visual function in some patients with retinal degeneration.4

Taurine is another antioxidant believed to play an important role in retinal function. It is also thought to inhibit the generation of protein radicals and to protect against free radical damage, which contributes to cataract formation.5 It has many other roles in the body, including acting as a nonspecific growth or healthy blood-clotting factor, an antioxidant, and a membrane protector. It also balances calcium ion levels in the body. A recent study suggests that taurine improves the body's ability to absorb fat-soluble vitamins by forming different types of water-soluble complexes.6

Vitamins C and E are essential antioxidants for eye health. Vitamin C is one of the most effective, least toxic antioxidants in the human body. Its concentration in the eye is 25 times greater than in the blood. Vitamin E, by contrast, is found in the lens at the same level as in the blood. It is thought to protect against cataracts by preventing photoperoxidation of lens lipids and by stabilizing lens cell membranes. Vitamin E is also an integral component of the outer membranes of photoreceptors.

PROTECT YOUR EYES
Vinpocetine may be an important supplement for preventing - and possibly reversing - some of the effects of age on the mind and the eyes. Similarly, vitamins C and E, carotenoids, and taurine are just a few of the valuable antioxidants that can forestall age-related eye disease. Unfortunately, while antioxidants are present in fruits and vegetables, research has shown that the truly therapeutic amounts of these nutrients are difficult, if not impossible, to obtain from food alone. But by resolving to improve the health of your eyes, as well as the rest of your body, you are helping to protect your most precious sense: your vision.

References

  1. Cruickshanks KJ, Klein R, Klein BE, Nondahl DM. Sunlight and the 5-year incidence of early age-related maculopathy. Arch Ophthal 2001;119:246­-50.
  2. Seddon JM, Ajani UA, Sperduto RD, Hiller R, Blair N, Burton TC, Farber MD, Gragoudas ES, Haller J, Miller DT, et al. Dietary carotenoids, vitamins A, C, and E, and advanced age-related macular degeneration. Eye Disease Case-Control Study Group. JAMA 1994;272:1413-­20.
  3. Kahan A, Szabo M. The effect of ethyl apovincaminate on the circulation of the eyeground. Arzneimittel Forsch 1976;26:1965-­9.
  4. Dagnelie G, Zorge IS, McDonald TM. Lutein improves visual function in some patients with retinal degeneration: a pilot study via the Internet. Optometry 2000;71(3):147­-64.
  5. Devamanoharan PS, Ali AH, Varma SD. Prevention of lens protein glycation by taurine. Mol Cell Biochem 1997;177:245­-50.
  6. Petrosian AM, Haroutounian JE. Taurine as a universal carrier of lipid soluble vitamins: a hypothesis. Amino Acids 2000;19(2):409-­21.

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