Introduction by Safe Baby Healthy Child Co-Founder Sandra Blum
I’ve noticed a lot more children and even babies lately, who are wearing glasses. Why?
When I was in grade school, one or two of my classmates wore glasses. Today, in my daughter’s class at least a third of all kids wear glasses and when my son was at daycare I noticed 2 year olds already wearing them. I don’t remember having seen babies wearing glasses when I was a kid. What changed? Children living in the city are more likely to wear glasses than farm kids. So is poor vision related to limited outdoor play? Also, nowadays, children (even babies/toddlers) spend lots of time on computer screens in front of TVs and on iPads. This adds additional strain to the eyes. The American Optometric Association recommends for every 20 minutes of computer viewing, look into the distance for 20 seconds to allow your eyes a chance to refocus.
We asked our Health Expert Dr. Murray Clarke to tell us little more about the relation of indoor play to myopia and if food could also have a role in better eyesight.
More Time Outdoors May Reduce Kids’ Risk of Myopia (Nearsightedness)
A study published in the May 2012 issue of the medical journal The Lancet, reported on the increasing world-wide epidemic of children suffering from myopia.
Myopia, also known as nearsighted or shortsighted, means that a person can see close objects clearly, but objects that are farther away appear blurred. A child with myopia may have difficulty focusing on a TV or movie screen, or the blackboard in school. In addition to weakening the vision, myopia also changes the physical structure of the eye. It can steepen the front surface of the eye, the cornea, as well as stretching the retina. These changes can then increase the risk of future eye disease with a direct association of progression into retinal detachments, glaucoma and in some cases, blindness.
The Lancet study reported:
“Myopia has emerged as a major health issue in east Asia because of its increasingly high prevalence in the past few decades (now 80–90% in school-leavers), and because of the sight-threatening pathologies associated with high myopia, which now affects 10–20% of those completing secondary schooling in this part of the world (America). Similar, but less marked, changes are occurring in other parts of the world. The higher prevalence of myopia in east Asian cities seems to be associated with increasing educational pressures, combined with lifestyle changes, which have reduced the time children spend outside.”(The Lancet, May 2012)
Children and Myopia
Previous studies have shown that at least one in six American children have developed myopia by age 16 with more than 75 percent of the new cases occurring between the ages of 9 to 13. Researchers have found that myopia increased 66 percent in the United States from 1971 to 2004.
To place these numbers in a historical perspective we can look back in time before the Industrial Revolution (the early 1800’s) when children and adults used their eyes predominantly for distance seeing. During that period, the incidence of myopia was less than five percent. The incidence of myopia in hunter-gatherer societies where children perform little near-focused work, is about 1%. According to a review study in the May 2016 issue of Ophthalmology, by 2050, half of the world’s population, nearly 5 billion, will be myopic.
Can Where You Live and Play Affect Your Eyesight?
Among the western developed countries, Australian children have the lowest incidence of myopia. In 2003, nearly 2,000 Australian 6-year-olds and 2,500 12-year-olds participated in the Sydney Myopia Study from 2003 to 2005. The conclusion of this comprehensive study was very clear: Outdoor Activity Reduces the Prevalence of Myopia in Children. Higher levels of outdoor activity (sport and leisure activities) were associated with lower myopia prevalence in the students. (J. Ophthalmology 2008)
Computers and Video Games and The Health of Our Children’s Eyes
Conversely, a University of California at Berkeley study in 2002 showed that myopia may result in children five to twelve years of age doing computer work for more than two hours a day. How many children are now spending hours a day playing video games on the computer, while being inside, in a semi-darkened room away from natural sunlight?
It is apparent that by being outside, being exposed to natural light frequencies from the sun while naturally looking and focusing on all distances from close to the far horizon is the healthiest environment for developing healthy eyes and reducing the chance of myopia in children. However is the amount of outdoor activity the only factor in this increasing epidemic of myopia?
Can Food and Supplements Keep Your Kids Eyes Healthy?
In recent years there has been a huge amount of enlightening research in understanding the role that food, diet and certain nutrients play in the development and maintenance of our eyes and vision.
Food, diet and nutritional supplements for maintaining healthy vision, protecting the eyes and preventing myopia:
When we look and focus on the nutrients that support and protect any particular organ or tissue in the body, the first thing to look at is what nutrients are found in the highest concentrations in that particular organ or tissue. What nutrients is that tissue made from and what nutrients does that particular tissue or organ require to function properly. When we look at the eyes from this perspective we can then understand what nutrients are most important to nourish, support, protect and maintain healthy function and vision.
Beta-Carotene. Everyone has heard at some time that carrots are good for our eyes. This is because carrots are rich sources of the carotenoid, beta carotene, which can then be converted into Vitamin A within the body. Vitamin A is found in high concentrations in the eye and is required to form the visual pigment rhodopsin that allows people to see in the dark.
Lutein and zeaxanthin. However beta carotene is just one carotenoid in a whole family of carotenoids. In recent years, studies and research now demonstrate that the two most important carotenoids for our eyes are lutein and zeaxanthin which are both found in large amounts in the lens and retina. Of the 600 carotenoids found in nature, only two are deposited in high quantities in the retina of the eye: lutein and zeaxanthin. Because these nutrients absorb 40 to 90 percent of blue light intensity, they act like sunscreen for our eyes and reduce the oxidative stress and damage that can occur over time. Lutein and zeaxanthin are most prominent in dark green leafy vegetables, especially kale, collard greens, spinach and turnip greens.
DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) normally accounts for more than one-third of the fatty acids in the retina of the eye as well as in the brain’s gray matter. The retina develops rapidly in the final months of pregnancy and in the first six months of infancy, very good reasons for every mother to be supplementing with DHA throughout her pregnancy. In addition to all of the research showing how important DHA is for supporting proper brain development we also need to remember that DHA is just as important for a child’s eye development as well. The best dietary sources of DHA are cold-water fish like mackerel, salmon, cod and sardines or supplementing with Cod Liver Oil.
Vitamin C and Vitamin E. These anti-oxidants are found in high concentrations in all tissues of the eye. In animal studies, supplements of vitamin C and E have been shown to slow the rate at which cataracts form. Vitamin C helps to promote healthy capillaries, gums, teeth, cartilage and the absorption of iron. Virtually all cells of the body depend on it, including those of the eye where it is actively concentrated.
Zinc is the main mineral found in high densities in the retina and is also part of enzyme systems that defend against oxidative damage and stress to the eyes.
Superfoods For The Eyes: Spinach and Fish
Spinach provides all four eye-protecting ingredients. It contains vitamin C, beta carotene and large amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin, the primary nutrients and antioxidants found in high concentrations in the tissue of the macula. Studies have shown that eating foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin can increase the pigment density in the macula – and greater pigment density means better retina protection, and a lower risk of all eye disorders.
The coldwater fish that contain the high density Omega 3 oils provide the most important fatty acid for the eyes, DHA.
Ongoing Support and Prevention
These recent studies on myopia in children reinforce the awareness and importance of a balanced lifestyle and diet. A balanced lifestyle and a healthy diet are always the two most important factors for creating and maintaining good health and especially for a child’s developing eyes.
A healthy balance of time spent outside in nature, exposed to natural sunlight, with the eyes roaming in vision and focus from close by objects to the far distance and the horizon. This activity provides the eyes with the normal, natural balance of pure light and looking at all distances.
A healthy diet that provides clean, organic vegetables and fruit to supply the optimum balance of the carotenoids: betacarotene, lutein and zeaxanthin along with clean fish or fish oils to supply the all important fatty acid, DHA.
By creating this environmental balance and providing a clean, healthy, organic diet for your child you will be giving all the necessary protection to their growing, developing eyes and vision. Not just for today, but for the rest of their life.
About Safe Baby Healthy Child Health Expert: Dr. Murray Clarke, D.Hom., L.Ac.
Dr. Murray Clarke is a doctor of naturopathic medicine with licenses and doctorates in homeopathic medicine and Chinese medicine (including acupuncture and herbology) and is a leading homeopathic physician for children in the Los Angeles area.
He is also the founder of ChildLife® Essentials, the first complete line of nutritional supplements exclusively for children ages newborn through teen, and author of Natural Baby-Healthy Child: Alternative Health Care Solutions from Pre-conception Through Childhood.
Natural Baby-Healthy Child utilizes diet, environmental detoxification, nutritional supplementation and holistic modalities including homeopathy, naturopathy, osteopathy, chiropractic and acupuncture to help parents–from pre-conception to pregnancy, to the baby’s first year through childhood–make the right health decisions for themselves and their child, naturally. Natural Baby–Healthy Child is an essential medical road map that will help keep children firmly on the path to robust, long-term good health and the realization of the full potential of body, mind and soul.