Nutrition and Eye Health (Part 1)

By Amy Campbell | October 1, 2007 12:24 pm

It’s been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Whether you believe that or not, your ophthalmologist (eye specialist), at least, is the one person who has the best view of the insides of your eyes and who can quickly spot any problems.

It’s well known that people with diabetes are at risk for several kinds of eye problems, including retinopathy[1], macular edema[2], glaucoma[3], and cataracts[4]. The good news is that all of these conditions can be prevented and/or treated, which is why annual, dilated eye exams by an ophthalmologist are so important. Make sure, by the way, that you get your eye exams from a qualified ophthalmologist, preferably someone who has experience working with people with diabetes. Going to your local eyeglasses store for a quick eye check doesn’t cut it.


-- Keep an eye on your vision! Learn about preventive steps and treatments for diabetic retinopathy from retinal specialist Dr. Charles Wykoff. >>

Know Your Numbers
What can you do to keep your eyes in tip-top shape? As you well know, people with diabetes should try to keep their numbers in control: This means that your blood glucose, HbA1c[5], cholesterol[6], blood pressure, and microalbumin levels should be at or as close to your target range as possible.The higher your HbA1c level is above 7%, for example, the higher your chances of developing complications. On the flip side, for every 1% that you lower your HbA1c level, you lower your risk of complications by up to 40%.

Granted, it’s not always easy to get your numbers to your goal. But it’s possible. The first step is to “know your numbers.” Make sure you know your HbA1c, lipid profile[7], and microalbumin results. Ask what your blood pressure is at every visit. And just as you record your blood glucose levels in your logbook, write down your lab and exam results. Keep your appointments for your annual eye exam and ask about your results.

Next, find out your targets. Talk to your health-care provider about what your results should be. Then, if you’re not at your target, come up with a strategy to get yourself there. You may need a drug change, or you may benefit from making some changes in your food choices or physical activity plan.

No matter what your stance is on carbohydrate, what we do know is that it’s essential for health. “Carbs” provide our bodies with energy. Our brains use glucose, the basic building blocks of carbohydrates, for fuel.

However, as with all macronutrients, some carbs are better for us than others. And the types of carbs you eat can have an impact on your vision. A study published in the July issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition links age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and its associated vision loss with the quality of carbohydrate that you eat. (AMD is the leading cause of blindness for people ages 50 and over.)

The researchers in this study found that men and women who consumed a higher–glycemic-index diet, compared to their peers, had a greater chance of developing AMD. The glycemic index[8] (GI), you may recall, is a ranking of how quickly a carbohydrate-containing food gets converted to blood glucose. High-GI foods, such as white rice and white bread, can increase blood glucose levels more quickly than brown rice or whole-grain bread. And the researchers figured that about 20% of the cases of AMD may have been prevented if the participants had consumed a lower-GI diet (not a lower-carbohydrate diet, by the way).

Next week: Trans fat[9] and some odd-sounding nutrients, and how they can impact your vision.

  1. retinopathy:
  2. macular edema:
  3. glaucoma:
  4. cataracts:
  5. HbA1c:
  6. cholesterol:
  7. lipid profile:
  8. glycemic index:
  9. Trans fat:

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Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin.

Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.

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