In the digital age, and now in the ‘stay-at-home age’, we rely on our eyes more than ever before. And that can mean excessive wear and tear. Fortunately, with a little care – including herbs for eye health – we can keep our peepers strong for years to come.
Digital eye strain, sometimes known as computer vision syndrome, is a serious problem that plagues many of us – especially those of us ‘of a certain age’ whose eyes just don’t work as well as they used to. Symptoms include: eye fatigue/discomfort, dry eyes, headaches, blurred vision, neck and shoulder pain, eye twitching and red eyes.
Even if you are not currently experiencing symptoms, if you spend more than a few hours/day staring at screens of all shapes and sizes, it’s a good idea to take a proactive approach to your eye health. Prevention is key!
Exercise your Eyes
Your eye muscles can benefit from regular exercise. Here‘s a link that I really like that describes some simple daily exercises that you can do to maintain eye function. Part of the problem with ‘staring at screens’ for a long time is that your eyes are fixated in one place for extended periods. Think about when you’ve been sitting all day and then you try to get up – your muscles are stiff! It’s the same with your eyes. You need to get them moving from time to time.
And, just like every other muscle, your eye muscles need breaks. I really like what is called the 20-20-20 rule: when you’re hard at work on the computer, take a 20-second break every 20 minutes and focus on something that is located at least 20 feet away from you. You can set a timer to remind you, and it’s a great mental break as well to stop what you are doing for a moment.
Of course, there may be other factors that can contribute to eye strain, including having the wrong eyeglass/contact prescription, blue light/glare, poor lighting. All About Vision provides these 10 tips for addressing digital eye strain.
Herbs for Eye Health
In a general sense, “anti-oxidants” are key to eye health. Anti-oxidants are substances that bind to and neutralize unstable molecules that can otherwise cause damage to our tissues.
All fruits and vegetables have some level of anti-oxidant activity, but ones with purple hues are particularly good for the eyes. The purple comes from the “anthocyanins”, powerful secondary metabolites that have strong anti-oxidant ability. Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), contains high levels of anthocyanins. Standardized extracts are often used to enhance eye health and performance. Some animal studies have shown that bilberry extract can enhance adaptation to darkness, and protect against retinal damage (Braun & Cohen, 2015).
If you can’t find bilberries or bilberry extract, the blueberry is a close relative that also has eye-protecting properties. And they’re delicious!
Marigolds (specifically Tagetes erecta, not the hybrids you buy at the nursery every spring) contain high levels of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are also indicated for eye health. It’s common knowledge that carrots (high in ‘carotenoids’ – get it?) are good for eye health, and, indeed, it’s those carotenoids that lend their orange color to the petals of the marigold.
When choosing a marigold supplement, be sure that it’s Tagetes erecta and not the pot marigold, more commonly known as calendula. Better quality products will be ‘standardized’ to lutein and zeaxanthin content. (Gaia Herbs has a nice product that contains extracts of both bilberry and marigold.)
Ginkgo biloba is typically thought of as a ‘memory’ herb – it’s popular now in a lot of supplements purported to enhance cognitive function and ward off Alzheimer’s disease. Because of this important purpose, there’s mounting research to support this use.
As it happens, one of the primary mechanisms of action of ginkgo that gives it the reputation of supporting brain health is its ability to improve blood flow, particularly in the smaller capillaries. Good blood flow in the vessels in the eyes and retina are critical to continued eye health. Thus ginkgo (which also has strong anti-oxidant properties) is another one of the great herbs for eye health.
For optimum results, ginkgo is best administered in a concentrated “50:1” standardized extract or a supplement that contains standardized flavone glycosides and terpene lactones.
Eye Love You
It is said that the eyes windows to our souls. So be sure to love them just as you would the rest of your body. Use the tips described here to be sure to give your eyes adequate exercise, rest, and nutrition. For questions or more information on how you can use herbs to support your eyes, don’t hesitate to send me a note!
Braun, L., & Cohen, M. (2015) Herbs and Natural Supplements: An Evidence-Based Guide (4th Ed.)