What helps our eyes stay healthy?
Following on from our excellent article last week from Aaron Telford from Baxter Blue about the effect of Blue or UVB light on our eyes I thought it would be a good idea to explore some herbal ways to support healthy eyes.
My Top 3 Herbs for Healthy Eyes
Eyebright ‘Euphrasia officinalis‘
Eyebright can be used for any catarrhal condition of the upper respiratory tract, sinusitis, chronic sneezing, hay fever, middle ear infections, sore throat or the common cold. It can also be used for any mild inflammation or infection of the eyes including conjunctivitis. Traditionally it was used both internally as a tincture or tea and externally as a compress. I tend to use in an eye wash for conjunctivitis – 1/4 tsp added to an egg cup of warm boiled water and use a cotton pad to gently wipe the eye with the solution ( with conjunctivitis remember to wash hands, use normal hygiene methods and use a fresh pad on each eye). In fact one study in 2017 showed that a commercial eye drop preparation containing both Eyebright and Chammomile protected the eyes against both oxidative stress and inflammation and may be useful for protecting the eyes against UVB exposure (1). Another study showed it is useful in order to protect the cells in our corneas (2).
Bilberry ‘Vaccinium myrtillus‘
Bilberry or Blueberry is considered to be the best herb/food for improving vision especially night vision (3). You may already know the fruit is very high in anthocyanins a very special antioxidant with a high affinity for the eye. It also gives the fruit a lovely blue colour we know so well. This helps with one of Bilberry’s main properties which is vasoprotective – meaning it protects the veins and connective tissue. This makes it very effective for things like varicose veins, excessive bruising and hemorrhoids. But can also be used for vision disorders, myopia, retinitis and simple glaucoma. Any condition in fact which affects the mucous membranes particularly of the head and neck including eyes, noses and throat will benefit from Bilberry.
There have been numerous studies on the effect of Bilberry on conditions such as cataract and macular degeneration. One study showed a 97% success rate in cataract prevention in an older group of 50 patients with mild senile cataract (4). Another study showed Bilberry protected against light induced damage due in part to the protective antioxidant effect of the anthocyanidins (5). There is enough evidence in the form of in vitro, animal and small human studies to perform more large controlled human trials in order to create an evidence base for it’s valuable use in age and diabetes related vision loss. Diabetic retinopathy is highly prevalent in those with diabetes for 10 years or more and is the leading cause of blindness in developed countries.
Gingko ‘Gingko biloba‘
This well known herb is from the oldest surviving tree species on earth and was around 200 million years ago during the dinosaur era! It was destroyed during the ice age everywhere but China where it has long been cultivated as a sacred tree (6). It can live up to 1000 years and grow to a height of 100-122 feet! It’s leaves look similar to the maidenhair fern so has been nicknamed the ‘maidenhair tree’, in fact the herbal tincture is made from these green leaves. The medicinal use of Gingko can be traced back to 2800 BC to the oldest Chinese Materia Medica and Traditional Chinese Medicine prescribes it to “benefit the brain”. It is probably our oldest known herb still in use today. It works by scavenging free radicals and protecting cellular membranes. The flavonoids in Gingko have an affinity for organs rich in connective tissue like the eyes, skin, aorta and lungs. It seems to improve blood flow to the brain as many studies have shown it’s usefulness in treating Alzheimer’s Disease, Tinnitus, Cerebral Vascular/Peripheral Arterial Insufficiency, recovery from Stroke, cochlear deafness, Macular Degeneration and Diabetic Retinopathy.
Most of us have heard of Lutein and Zeaxanthin which are yellow carotenoid antioxidants which have been shown in some studies to protect our eyes against blue light. They are found in large amounts in our macula where light is focused by the lens and protect against free radical damage to the retina. In fact they are thought to protect against macular degeneration and have been popular recently in gummy form for children because of all the screen time our children are exposed to. Foods rich in these nutrients are spinach, swiss chard, kale, parsley, pistachios and green peas (see where i am going with this? eat your greens 🙂 ) also egg yolks, sweet corn and red grapes.
A few other foods to consider are of course foods like blueberries as discussed above and other berries rich in antioxidant compounds. But also Vitamin A rich foods which include Cod or Halibut Liver oil, Beta-carotene rich foods (which converts to Vitamin A) like yellow and orange vegetables – carrot, sweet potato, capsicum. But some people who may have higher needs for these nutrients like those with Diabetes or Alcoholics could benefit from Vitamin A or Cod Liver Oil supplements not just rely on Beta-carotene conversion. Vitamin A protects the light sensing cells in our eyes and deficiency is the leading cause of blindness in the world. Night blindness or dry eyes may be a sign you are deficient in this essential vitamin.
Another important nutrient to consider for eye health is Rutin which is found in high amounts in blackcurrants, cherries, strawberries, lemons, grapes, grapefruits, plums and buckwheat. it strengthens and increases the efficiency of small blood vessels and veins. Dorothy Hall the mother of Herbal Medicine in Australia said it is of “Great therapeutic value for diseases of the eye even severe ones like glaucoma.”
Other nutrients to consider keeping our eyes healthy are Omega 3 oils (DHA is found in high amounts in our retinas) GLA or Evening Primrose Oil, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Zinc.
For more information or a Herbal Tonic to protect your or your family members eyes please drop in and take advantage of our Apothecary Service or book an appointment ONLINE HERE.
Thank you for reading.
Stay Well !
Fin Mackenzie – Naturopath & Herbalist
BHSc(CompMed), ADNat, DNut, DRM, MATMS
Green Door Health
Apothecary & Clinic
24/12-14 Waratah St, Mona Vale NSW 2103
1. Elisabetta Bigagli, Lorenzo Cinci, MarioD’Ambrosio & Cristina Luceri.(2017) Pharmacological activities of an eye drop containing Matricaria chamomilla and Euphrasia officinalis extracts in UVB-induced oxidative stress and inflammation of human corneal cells. Department of Neuroscience, Psychology, Drug Research and Child Health, NEUROFARBA, Section of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Florence, Italy.
2. Roman Paduch, Anna Woźniak, Piotr Niedziela & Robert Rejdak. (2014) Assessment of Eyebright (Euphrasia Officinalis L.) Extract Activity in Relation to Human Corneal Cells Using In Vitro Tests. Balkan Med J.
3. Wing-kwan Chu,Sabrina C. M. Cheung, Roxanna A. W. Lau, and Iris F. F. Benzie. (2011) Herbal Medicine Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects Second Edition. Taylor & Francis Group LLC. p 55-69.
4. Bravetti, G. O., E. Fraboni, and E. Maccolini. 1989. Preventive medical treatment of senile cataract with vitamin E and Vaccinium myrtillus anthocyanosides: Clinical evaluation. Ann Ottalmol Clin Ocul 115:109–16.
5. Jang, Y. P., J. Zhou, K. Nakanishi, and J. R. Sparrow. 2005. Anthocyanins protect against photooxidation and
membrane permeabilization in retinal pigment epithelial cells. Photochem Photobiol 81:529–36.
6. Michael T Murray. The Healing Power of Herbs 2nd Edition. (1995) Prima Health USA.
7. Kerry Bone. A Clinical Guide to Blending Liquid Herbs. (2003) Churchill Livingstone USA.
8. David Hoffman. The New Holistic Herbal. (1990) Element UK.
9. Michael Thomsen. Phytotherapy Desk Refernce 2nd Edition. (1995) Phytotherapi. Australia
10. Dr H.C.A Vogel. The Nature Doctor 50th Edition. (1989) Griffin. Australia.
11. Dorothy Hall. The Natural Health Book. (1982) Nelson. Australia
12. Richard L.Roberts PhD Justin Green PhD Brandon Lewis PhD.(2009) Lutein and zeaxanthin in eye and skin health. Clinics in Dermatology Volume 27, Issue 2, Pages 195-201. Elsevier. USA.