Nutrition: One ophthalmologist's viewpoint

Bitterroot Valley Eye Associates
A Service of Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital
Mark Calderwood, MD
300 North 10th Street
Hamilton, MT 59840
(406) 363-5434


Nutrition: One ophthalmologist's viewpoint
I am often asked, what one can do to improve eye health What supplements, herbs, vitamins, or pills to take?

What can we do to reduce the risk or progression of eye diseases like macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts, or dry eye? Though there are many unique structures to the eye such as the retina, cornea, iris, and tears, to name a few, the fact of the matter is, what is good for the rest of the body is good for the eye. The larger question might be, what is the ideal nutrition so that I won't need drugs, vitamins, or supplements? This is a very good question indeed.

Ask any two nutritionists what the ideal diet is and you'll likely get two different answers. Ask any two physicians what ideal nutrition is and you'll likely get the same. It's not that there's a consensus on the matter, because there isn't. It's that there's not enough good science. There are pockets out there, but you really have to dig for answers. In this article, I hope to confer a little of my knowledge and opinion that I've learned over several decades of research (unfortunately they don't teach this stuff in medical school).

The enormous impact of our current health care crisis cannot be underestimated. Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's, autoimmune disease, and obesity are sky rocketing and there is no plateau in sight. These issues simply weren't common in the 19th century and before. The fact of the matter is that our genetics haven't changed much over the last 10 thousand years, but our environment has. Our lifestyle, more specifically and our diet, is unrecognizable. Clearly, there are many assaults to our health apart from diet such as daily activity levels, sun exposure, sleep deprivation, pollutants (air, water, plastics, etc), work patterns, political and economic stresses, technological exposure, and social changes. However, I would like to focus on diet because it is my opinion that this is the major determinant of health.

If you want to learn a little about what we were like thousands of years ago before the advent of Western civilization and its concomitant diseases, you can gain some insight by looking at aboriginal tribes around the world unaffected by modern influences. The Inuit, Masai, Kitavans, Ache, or Hadza are a few examples. These people are generally healthy, lean, and fit living long lives. Their diets vary widely but common to all is the lack of processed foods. They eat local, organic, indigenous foods unadulterated by modern additives or processes.

Theories abound about the causative nature of our collective health. Macronutrients: carbs, fats, and proteins have all been implicated in one way or another. High carb, low carb, low fat, and high protein diets have all had their adherents (I've tried them all), but none have passed the rigors of science or the test of time. From baseline, most people regain all or more weight after one year. Fad diets simply aren't sustainable.

Beginning in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, unnatural food additives slowly began creeping into the food supply without proper controlled trials. We were and are a society of guinea pigs. Artificial sweeteners (e.g. saccharin, aspartame, sucralose), trans fats (e.g. crisco), food colorings, flavorings, industrial seed oils (e.g. cottonseed, safflower, canola, soy, corn) and GMO's have substantially changed what we consume. We simply have no well controlled human trials on their effects, especially in combination and with repeated exposure.

Our DNA has not had enough time to adapt.

How much we eat is another problem. We have consistently increased the number of calories we eat each day especially over the last three decades. Snacking and highly rewarding foods (palatability) increase our intake more than ever. Food science has become very good at getting our grocery dollars by making foods more addictive. The combination of salt, sugar, and fat in the right proportions makes food irresistible. To compound this these foods often are the cheapest. And there is good evidence that this has influenced our adipostat (fat thermostat found in the hypothalamus) which hinders our fat loss further.

Soft drinks, fruit juices, energy drinks, and alcohol are fluids that were never a daily part of our nutrition.

Water is the only fluid necessary for life once we've outgrown mother's milk. Yet for many, these have replaced water altogether.

Industrial farming has given us nutritionally poor grains. Fruits and vegetables have been depleted of micronutrients. Grain fed animals have changed omega 6 to omega 3 ratios. Packaging in containers with BPAs and other noxious chemicals are increasingly poisoning us. I could go on and on about the faults of modern living. But it all leads to the same conclusion.

We must learn from our mistakes. The answer may be as simple as getting back to basics: Drink more water.

Eat real food and eliminate processed ones. Rely on local, organic, and simple items. No processing and no artificial additives. Prepare food with simple techniques. There is good evidence that these changes can help reset our adipostat, normalizing our fat stores and weight, increasing our micronutrients, reducing toxins and oxidative stress, and feeding our gut biome. It might dramatically alter what's ailing us. These are doable and within our abilities. Food can be vibrant, exciting, and delicious without deprivation. We need to relearn nature to regain our health.

I am often asked what vitamins, supplements or herbs to take. We have been brain washed into thinking that our diet cannot be adequate for our health. We are more likely to want to take a pill rather than fix the cause.

But what other creatures on earth require supplements to their normal diet? ... This ought to be a clue.

There is still time to get 15% off all eyeglass frames. Warm up in style with new eyeglass frames from Bitterroot Valley Eye Associates! Sale ends Friday, January 29, 2016 with coupon. Visit mdmh.org for coupon and more information. Walk-ins welcomed.

Questions and or comments regarding this week's health column please contact, Mark Calderwood, MD at Bitterroot Valley Eye Associates, a service of Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital, 300 North 10th Street, Hamilton, MT 59840. Working together to build a healthier community!
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