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Don't let age and diabetes rob you of your eyesight.

A few months ago, I told you about the surprising connection between glaucoma, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes. There are now researchers who consider both glaucoma and Alzheimer's to be related to "diabetes of the brain," and some even call Alzheimer's "type-3 diabetes" or "glaucoma of the brain." It's clear that there is a connection, and you can read more about this connection and how to protect yourself in the August 2015 issue of Women's Health Letter. Unfortunately, glaucoma isn't the only vision issue that diabetics need to worry about. But the good news is that there are a number of steps you can take to avoid vision complications as you age.

As you may know, one of the most severe complications of diabetes is blindness. However, this blindness does not occur all at once. Rather, it's the culmination of a long period of vision loss, often caused by glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, or cataracts.

Because I discussed glaucoma at length previously, I'd like to focus on the other three issues. Diabetic retinopathy in particular is a significant problem, as it affects 40-45% of Americans diagnosed with diabetes. However, only about half of these people recognize that there's a problem. That's because the early stages of this disease are typically asymptomatic. The first sign of trouble is often "floaters," spots that appear and disappear in your vision. These floaters are the result of bleeding from abnormal retinal blood vessels. While it's common for the spots to go away on their own, you should still seek treatment right away if you notice them, as the bleeding can recur and cause permanent damage. While diabetic retinopathy can lead to irreversible blindness, you can reduce your risk of this outcome by about 95% by recognizing and treating the problem as early as possible. This can mean catching the problem before you even notice symptoms. If you have diabetes, you should get a comprehensive eye exam with your eyes dilated every year, even if you don't think you have any vision problems. If your doctor does detect diabetic retinopathy, he or she will likely have you come in for exams more frequently. In fact, annual eye exams are important for everybody over the age of 50.

This eye exam is particularly important if you are diabetic before pregnancy or develop diabetes during pregnancy. Your risk of rapid-onset or progressing diabetic retinopathy is increased, so it's essential that you see your eye doctor early in the pregnancy for an exam. He or she can advise you on how frequently your eyes need to be checked during your pregnancy.

One of the best ways to slow the onset and progression of diabetic retinopathy is something I hope you're doing anyway: keeping your diabetes under control. The Diabetes Control and Complications Trial found that the more normal your blood glucose levels are, the less likely you are to develop diabetic retinopathy. As an added bonus, you'll also reduce your risk of kidney and nerve diseases. Controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol also helps keep your risk of vision issues down.

Several medicinal herbs can help you control diabetic retinopathy. According to a study published last year, one of my favorite herbs for protecting vision, Andrograpis paniculata (Andro for short), may be one such option. Researchers studied mice with diabetic retinopathy and found that Andro could provide relief in the mice by reducing the breakdown in the blood-retinal barrier and reducing inflammation. Andrographis is a wonderful herb to know about for inflammation in general. There are 2,000-year-old andrographis formulas that we commonly use to prevent the onset of colds and flu.

Another option, according to a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, is He-Ying-Qing-Re Formula (HF), a derivative of Si-Miao-Yong-An Decoction, a formulation used in traditional Chinese medicine dating back to the Qing dynasty. HF is a combination of eight different herbs that has been used for decades to treat diabetic retinopathy. This study confirmed its efficacy in preventing diabetic retinopathy, attributing its potency in part to its ability to inhibit the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) and help improve endothelial dysfunction. The main components of HF include chlorogenic acid, which you can also find in green tea; ferulic acid (which is a strong antioxidant); and arctin. If you're interested in an alternative way to fight AGEs, you need look no further than polyphenols, which you'll find in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. To really ramp up your defenses, you can try Advanced Polyphenol Formula (800-791-3395). Wild blueberry, contained in a significant amount in this formula, has been shown to be retinoprotective and delay the onset of diabetic retinopathy.

The link between macular degeneration, cataracts, and diabetes isn't quite as pronounced as that between diabetes and diabetic retinopathy. However, while diabetic retinopathy is fairly uncommon in non-diabetics, macular degeneration and cataracts are issues we should all be on our guard against as we age. The good news about age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is that it doesn't usually lead to complete blindness. However, the disease can become severe enough that it interferes with your everyday activities.

You may first notice AMD as a blurred area near the center of your vision, blank spots in your central vision, a decrease in brightness, or an increase in the time it takes for you to adjust to darkness after being in a well-lit area. While the disease typically progresses slowly, you should certainly seek treatment if you notice any of these symptoms.

Cataracts occur as some of the proteins that form the lenses of our eyes begin to clump together. This clouds the lens, making it harder to see. Diabetes is one potential cause of cataract formation, as is smoking. However, the normal wear and tear our lenses experience over time also can lead to cataract formation. It's possible to perform surgery on cataracts. In general, this surgery is thought to be safe and a great way to improve your vision. Unfortunately, research is beginning to indicate that having cataract surgery may be robbing Peter to pay Paul--in that it actually increases your risk of AMD.

Several studies have revealed this link, with one in particular investigating the 10-year incidence of AMD after cataract surgery. The researchers found that having cataracts increases the risk of early AMD. This isn't surprising--after all, if you have one eye problem, chances are that the factors that might contribute to another are already in place. But the researchers also found that having the surgery itself also increases risk of late AMD after 10 years.

Some preliminary research is indicating that cataract surgery may speed up the progression of diabetic retinopathy as well. While we don't know for sure that this is the case, this possible connection is certainly worth noting.

If you do have cataracts, surgery may be your only option. After all, you don't want to live with horribly impaired vision simply because you're afraid that you'll eventually have horribly impaired vision. However, you should be aware of the risks and begin taking some of the steps mentioned to avoid diabetic retinopathy and AMD.

If you don't yet have cataracts, it's important that you take steps to prevent them. It seems that one of the best ways to do that is with vitamin C. One fascinating study reviewed the diets of over 1,000 pairs of 60-year-old British female twins. This is a great sample and makes it easier to draw credible conclusions when differences are observed. The researchers found that those who consumed the most vitamin C in their diets had a one-third lower risk of cataracts over the next 10 years.

It's wise to consume a wide variety of vitamin C-rich foods in your diet. If you're worried about cataracts and want to take more vitamin C, consider liposomal vitamin C, such as Lypo-Spheric[TM] Vitamin C, which you can find on Amazon. The liposomal form won't cause gastrointestinal problems when you take higher doses. Or you can use a buffered vitamin C, commonly found in your health food store or on Amazon.

It's great to try to eat foods high in vitamin C, but that isn't the only dietary change you can make to protect your vision. Increasing your intake of astaxanthin and lycopene is a good eye-protection strategy. Astaxanthin is a carotenoid found in salmon, crab, lobster, and shrimp and several forms of algae such as chlorella. You may be more familiar with the carotenoid beta carotene, found in carrots. When your mother told you that carrots were good for your eyes, she was right. But she probably didn't know that astaxanthin is even better. In fact, it's known as the "king of the carotenoids." If you don't enjoy seafood or you just want to increase your astaxanthin dose, you can find this nutrient in supplement form--Advanced Vision Formula (800-791-3395). It contains 13 nutrients to support healthy vision, including astaxanthin. But it also includes the carotenoid lutein, bilberry, and an additional 125 mg of vitamin C to help ward off those cataracts.

Like astaxanthin, lycopene is another red carotenoid, but this phytochemical is found in fruits and vegetables, particularly tomatoes, red carrots, watermelons, pink grapefruits, and papayas. Lycopene is unique in that cooking lycopene-rich fruits and vegetables actually increases its concentration, so cooking up a homemade tomato sauce will actually benefit your eyes more than slicing that tomato for your sandwich.

In addition to dietary changes, there are a few additional Chinese herb formulas I like to help protect aging eyes. If you have a high normal or simply a high sugar issue, try the Plum Flower Four Marvel Formula. If you don't have blood sugar issues, you'll likely find Ming Mu Di Huang Wan to be effective. Keep in mind that because the eyes are slow to change, you'll likely need to take these formulas for at least six months before you notice any type of improvement. You can find both of these formulas at www.chineseherbsdirect.com.

Diabetes can certainly increase your risk of vision problems. But none of us are immune from these issues altogether. My sight is invaluable to me, as I'm sure yours is to you. That's why I take steps today to help ensure that my vision stays sharp as the years go by. Whether you have diabetes or not, I hope you'll choose to do the same.

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Publication:Women's Health Letter
Date:Jun 1, 2016
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