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  • Kellie Blake RDN, LD, IFNCP

Hindsight is 20/20

Did you know your eyes can be a window to your chronic disease risk? A nutrition focused physical exam can uncover issues long before you may ever know there is a problem. In fact, your eyes can provide sign language that gives your physician or trained dietitian clues about your nutritional well-being. Your eyes are the organ that can show the first signs of disease, infections, metabolic disturbances, and vitamin deficiencies.

A highly trained professional can help shed light on conditions that seem to be a routine or "normal" part of the aging process. For example, cataracts are a common condition, but can be a result of deficiencies in N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC), glutathione, and Vitamin B2, and night blindness can be a result of Vitamin A deficiency. Like so many ailments or conditions, these could be prevented or improved simply by correcting the nutrient deficiencies.

Your eyes also provide clues that can be elucidated by a well-trained dietitian. A comprehensive nutrition focused physical exam can help to identify conjunctivitis, blepharitis, corneal arcus, xanthoma, Bitot's spots, lid pallor and lid edema. All of which can indicate specific nutrient deficiencies and/or disease conditions.

Dry eye syndrome is common, but typically results from some other root cause. Metabolic disturbances such as diabetes (correlation has been shown between elevated HgbA1c and dry eye in 70% of patients), oxidative stress, bacterial overgrowth, inflammation, and lipid peroxidation can all lead to dry eye symptoms. Dry eye can be a difficult condition to treat effectively if those underlying issues are not corrected first. In order to correct those root causes, you must have a provider that can identify the root cause! Your physician and/or dietitian should be asking you about and looking at your eyes.

Just as it's important to maintain the health of your gut microbiome, you also have an ocular microbiome to consider! Your ocular microbiome refers to the microbes that are found on the surface of your eye. Your eyes are susceptible to the external environment and the microbes on the surface of your eyes serve as a physical barrier to protect you. The ocular microbiome also helps to provide immune support. Maintaining a healthy ocular microbiome and bringing health to your eyes through nutrition is very powerful! Each person has a unique story and finding what works for you is very individualized. But, for most people, following these five basic rules can be a great place to start:

1. Limit sugar from all sources, especially soda. Did you know soda even 8 ounces per day can narrow your retinal arteries, which is a precursor to cardiovascular disease?

2. Increase organic vegetable intake to a minimum of 5 servings per day and choose lots of leafy greens!

3. Choose organic fruits that are loaded with phytonutrients and antioxidants. Black currant is a powerful fruit for eye health. But blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries are awesome too.

4. Add in healthy sources of fat. Avocado, olive oil, coconut, nuts and seeds are great sources of healthy fats. Cut out the highly processed oils such as canola, sunflower, safflower, and other vegetable oils. These promote inflammation and can fuel dry eye.

5. Drink plenty of water! Your eyes need healthy, filtered water for lubrication. A good rule of thumb is to divide your body weight in pounds by 2.2 and drink that many ounces of water daily. So, for a 150 pound person, you would aim for 68 ounces.

For a more detailed, individualized plan, contact us for a free 15 minute phone consultation! Your body can provide amazing clues early on in the disease process, which can be corrected and help you live a life free of disease! You should have your eyes examined on a regular basis, but if you notice any changes in your vision or physical changes in or around your eyes, contact Dr. Heather Skeens at the West Virginia Cornea and Cataract Center of Excellence in Charleston, WV.

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