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Focus on Eyes

Children need Essential Fatty Acids

Meditate to strengthen immune system

Focus on Eyes

The National Eye Institute estimates that 28 million Americans over 40 have eye ailments that put them at risk for vision impairment or loss and that the number of blind or visually impaired Americans could double in 20 years. But high-tech science is providing reasons for optimism about our eye health. Here are some of the advances:

"Bionic Eyes" Help The Mind To See: A life-changing development is the restoration of sight to the blind by implanting an electrode patch directly onto the retina. In a recent experiment, Connie Schoeman, 77, blind for 50 years from a genetic disease had a silicone "prosthesis" placed on one of her retinas at the Doherty Retina Institute of the University of Southern California. A tiny camera in her spectacles sends signals to the implant via a wireless receiver behind her ear (see diagram). Now she says, "I can see lights and distinguish between some objects, such as a knife and a plate." This work is evolving rapidly. The USC doctors keep refining retinal implants, hoping soon to restore the ability of blind patients to recognize faces. Says Schoeman: "It's exciting to see anything again after so many years of total darkness."

An estimated 20.8 million American adults have cataracts — progressive clouding of the lens that can lead to blindness. Treatment is a brief, nearly risk-free surgical procedure that breaks up the cataract, removes the pieces and implants an artificial lens made of biocompatible plastic. Compared with the eye's original lens, this one is rigid. While patients end up with improved distance vision, they usually still need reading glasses.

The new flexible "accommodative" crystalens is designed to mimic the seamless focusing of a 20-year-old," says Dr. Neil Martin of Chevy Chase, Md. "It works with the eye's own muscles to change focus naturally from reading to computer to distance." It costs around $5000 an eye. Some eye surgeons offer the crystalens to improve general vision as with aging eyes but this is not covered by insurance. (It's only covered to correct cataracts, and then insurance only pays about half.) Others question whether getting rid of glasses or contact lenses justifies the risks of surgery inside the eye, though complications are rare.

Glaucoma may be stopped. Get regular eye checkups. At first there are no symptoms of glaucoma. There is only an unhealthy rise in the pressure within the eyes that causes gradual vision loss by damaging the optic nerve. "I had absolutely no pain, no blurring, no headaches," says Martin Welch, 53, of Morgan Hill, Calif., who was 39 when his glaucoma was discovered during a routine checkup. He credits early diagnosis with saving his sight. Today, there are new electronic devices that detect vision loss sooner, and new medications to lower pressure in the eye.

Refractive laser surgery (LASIK), is a popular technique used to correct near or farsightedness. It uses a laser to reshape the cornea, eliminating the need for glasses or contact lenses. Unfortunately, up to 20% of patients eventually require re-treatment. This is due to subtle abnormalities in the cornea that specialists have begun to detect and correct only recently. Now there is a new "wavefront" technology which can customize laser treatments to an individual's cornea to obtain sharper vision and reduce glare problems. It also should reduce the need for re-treatment.

As eyes age, multiple focusing shifting from distance to close gets more difficult, Bifocals can do the correcting. A new alternative is conductive keratoplasty (CK), which uses radio waves to reshape the cornea, often in only one eye. "It sets you up for monovision, with one eye seeing near and one seeing far," says Dr, Susan Taub, chair of the Better Vision Institute. The brain makes the visual adjustment. About 8 in 10 people can adapt to monovision. CK, which promises to be safer than laser surgery and costs less, is done in a doctor's office with eyedrop anesthesia. But most patients need retreatment in three to five years. 1

How to take care of your eyes:

  • Get regular eye exams every 2-4 years after 35, more often after 50 or if you have a family history of eye disease.
  • Outdoors, always wear sunglasses that block ultraviolet radiation, a risk factor for cataracts.
  • Also wear a hat with a brim-sunglasses block only about 60% of UV light
  • Eat spinach, other leafy greens and carrots, rich in antioxidant vitamins like C and E. If your diet is low in them, you're at a higher risk for age-related eye problems.
  • Take a supplement containing lutein, a vitamin not plentiful in foods. It may protect against serious eye disease. (see vision spray)
  • Choose fats wisely. Store-bought pies, cakes and snacks have vegetable fats linked to a high risk of macular degeneration. Lower the risk with omega-3 fats, in foods like fatty fish and walnuts.
  • Watch your weight. Obesity can lead to diabetes and its related eye complications.
  • Don't smoke. Smoking can constrict the tiny blood vessels within the eye.

Children need Essential Fatty Acids

"Superimmunity for Kids" by Leo Galland, M.D. & Dian Dincin Buchman, Ph.D. is an excellent book on children's nutrition and how to maintain a healthy immune system. Through his extensive research and clinical work, Dr. Galland has found that essential fatty acids (EFAs) are critical to a healthy immune system. Galland says, "we are in the midst of a nationwide epidemic of Essential Fatty Acid deficiencies that is undermining the health of our children."

Essential Fatty Acids are 'essential' because your child needs them to be healthy. As the body can't make them, they must be supplied by diet. There are numerous health problems associated with deficiencies of essential fatty acids. These include hair loss, eczema-like skin eruptions, susceptibility to infections, arthritis-like conditions, liver or kidney degeneration, growth retardation and problems with vision or learning.

Unfortunately, many of the popular oils used today are non-essential fats and many are hydrogenated. Hydrogenation is a manufacturing process that converts unsaturated fats into saturated fats to prolong shelf life. Read the labels of foods you buy in the grocery store. Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are found in margarine, shortening, commercial baked goods and processed foods. Hydrogenation physically alters any Essential Fatty Acids in the oil, which creates artificial fatty acids. Dr. Galland says that "These artificial fatty acids are not only unnatural and unnecessary, they can have a disastrous effect on your child's body's ability to use Essential Fatty Acids."

There are two kinds of Essential Fatty Acids:

  • Omega-6 - found in safflower, sunflower, corn and evening primrose oils.
  • Omega-3 - found in flaxseeds, walnuts, and soybeans. Whole or ground up flaxseeds can be found in bulk at most health food stores.

Dried beans, such as great northern, kidney, navy & soybeans are inexpensive sources of both omega-6 and omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids. Certain fish are very rich in Essential Fatty Acids. The body can convert Essential Fatty Acids from fish more easily than other forms. The best fish are salmon, tuna, mackerel, bluefish, sardines and herring.

Meditate to strengthen immune system

University of Wisconsin researchers have found that people who did eight weeks of meditation training strengthened their immune systems by producing more antibodies to a flu vaccine. Another benefit, according to the study that appears in the current issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, was increased activity in brain areas related to positive emotion. The findings are important because they are the first published results linking meditation to positive feelings and immune system function. The subjects in the study typically meditated for an hour a day, six days a week, with the help of instructive audiotapes Those who meditated had more electrical activity in the targeted brain areas and also had higher levels of antibodies than those who didn't receive meditation training. According to one of the researchers, "Our findings indicate that a short training program in mindful meditation has demonstrable effects on brain and immune function and underscores the need for additional research on the biological consequences of this intervention."

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In Good Health.
Pamela Nathan

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