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Preventive Maintenance: Setting your sights on Old Man Winter

Winter! What a season for driving. There's slush, snow and sand building up on the windshield ... sopping up your windshield washer fluid and wearing out your wipers. What's worse than grinding dirt b...

Winter! What a season for driving. There’s slush, snow and sand building up on the windshield … sopping up your windshield washer fluid and wearing out your wipers. What’s worse than grinding dirt back and forth across the windshield?

Doing the same thing all winter to your eyes.

Looking for a system that will keep you looking through a crystal clear windshield may be next to impossible, but for your eyes it is within reach.

With a few basic ingredients, you can keep the lenses of your eyes crystal clear.

We all take our eyesight for granted; until we run into problems. But, by making sure you eat a balanced diet, including enough of these few nutrients, you can count on seeing a long way down the road.

By supplementing your diet with antioxidants, Vitamins A and C and carotinoids, you can avoid tragic eye problems such as cataracts, which is a thickening of the lens.

In particular if you are overweight or diabetic – these conditions are directly linked to developing cataracts.

Did you know the highest concentration of antioxidants in your body is found just behind the lens of your eye? It’s like your washer fluid reservoir; keep your supply topped up, and you avoid a lot of problems.

The front of your eye needs Vitamin A to keep your body’s windshield – your eye or more specifically the cornea – clear.

Not enough could eventually lead to blindness. Insufficient Vitamin A is a major cause of childhood blindness. This type of blindness happens in steps and is reversible if caught early enough. First the cornea becomes dry and brittle, but over time, the body secretes a substance that makes it soft. At this stage, blindness is permanent.

At the same time, the back of your eye needs enough Vitamin A, which helps convert light energy into nerve impulses in the retina. When light enters the eye through the pupil, the pigment cells of the retina become bleached as they absorb the light.

This bleaching changes the pigment’s shape and color and generates the nerve impulses that the brain recognizes as color. As soon as the pigment cells are bleached, the body bathes them with a solution rich in Vitamin A (or retinal) to prepare them to register another blast of light energy. Each time a pigment cell changes, some retinal is lost.

In fact, night blindness – an inability to see in dim light – is an early symptom of Vitamin A deficiency, which is actually among the Top 3 vitamin deficiencies in industrialized nations.

Think about all your night driving. Did you know that driving in the night can seriously deplete your stored Vitamin A?

Here’s why: During light hours, there is a shadowing pigment in your eye that protects rods in the back of your eye. At night, your body doesn’t produce this protection, leaving your color receptors exposed.

As well, your pupil has to be wide open in order to allow enough light in for your cones and rods to get the full picture.

So, if a bright light shines suddenly at night through an open pupil on unprotected rods, much of the pigment is bleached and momentarily inactivated, thus releasing and eventually consuming more retinal. The person with low stores of Vitamin A, doesn’t have enough to recover quickly from the temporary blinding that follows a flash of bright light at night, and becomes unable to see anything in the dark.

At night, every time you see oncoming headlights, you are using up your store of Vitamin A.

To get enough Vitamin A, there are many foods you can eat: fortified milk, cheese, cream, butter, fortified margarine, eggs, liver, spinach, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, orange fruits and vegetables.

For general eye health making sure to get enough Vitamin B2 can’t hurt either. This will lessen your sensitivity to light and prevent your eyelids from getting red and swollen. So, load up on milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, meat, green leafy vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals.

Iron is also important. If the whites of your eyes appear to be blueish, this can be a sign of an iron deficiency. You get iron from red meats, fish, poultry, shellfish, eggs, legumes and dried fruits.

Be sure to get some zinc, too, from protein rich foods like meats, fish, poultry, and whole grains.

Eyes are great at healing themselves. But, for eyes to take care of themselves, you have to feed them what they need.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll be glad when winter is over and all this white stuff is gone.

I won’t have to look through all that slush that lands on my windshield as someone passes me on the highway. Fortunately, with good wipers, and lots of fluid, I can keep on driving. And with good nutrition, your eyes will be able to do the same.

Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by email at

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