Both high blood pressure and high cholesterol are affected by diet. And although you may not think of those conditions in terms of your vision, both can cause serious damage to your eyes.
The good news is that there are plenty of easy, healthy food choices you can make this time of year to enjoy the season and lower your risk for those conditions.
High cholesterol and your eyes
First, a note about cholesterol: Not all of it is bad. Cholesterol is a major component of all of our cell membranes and plays an important part in making hormones, some vitamins, and bile acids to help us digest our food. But too much LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol can build up plaque in the arteries.
If the plaque breaks, it can block an artery causing a heart attack or, if it’s in the brain, a stroke. It can also block an artery in the eye, leading to what’s called a retinal artery occlusion. In that case the retina is deprived of oxygen, which can result in severe vision loss. Also referred to as an ocular stroke, it causes an abrupt loss of vision in one eye and requires immediate emergency medical attention.
Even when our eyes aren’t directly affected by too much cholesterol, they can alert us to the presence of cholesterol buildup in the rest of the body. One sign of high cholesterol is a bluish ring that forms around the cornea. These rings, called arcus senilis, are common in older people and benign, but if they appear in people under age 45 it’s a good idea for them to get a blood test to determine if overall cholesterol is too high.
Eye Symptoms of High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure (hypertension) can cause an eye condition called hypertensive retinopathy. If your blood pressure is too high, the retina’s blood vessel walls may thicken, which could cause the blood vessels to narrow, restricting blood flow to the retina. The damage can limit function of the retina and also put pressure on the optic nerve.
Seek medical help immediately if you have sudden changes in your vision. Warning signs of this condition include:
Blood vessel bursts
Another eye condition from hypertension is choroidopathy, the buildup of fluid under the retina. This results in distorted vision or, in some cases, scarring that impairs vision. Another risk to the eyes is that hypertension can also lead to stroke, which in turn can cause vision loss.
Nutrients that help
Enjoying richer-than-usual food with family and friends is a major feature of the holidays. But while you’re indulging, why not also enjoy the benefits of nutrients that will help keep you in optimal health this season? Here are some to look for:
Potassium is great for helping to reduce blood pressure, and can be found in asparagus, avocado, corn, lima beans, potatoes, tomatoes, apples, bananas, oranges, peaches, plums, strawberries, chicken, cod, salmon, and tuna.
Magnesium helps potassium work and can be found in legumes, seeds, nuts, whole grains, and leafy green vegetables. Some foods that are particularly rich in magnesium are seaweed, almonds, cashews, brewer’s yeast, buckwheat, Brazil nuts, millet, pecans, and walnuts.
Calcium works with magnesium and can be found in many of the magnesium-rich foods as well as in dairy products, such as yogurt, cottage cheese, and buttermilk. Broccoli is also a good source of calcium.
The role of saturated fats in reducing cholesterol is currently hotly debated. On the one hand, saturated fat can increase your “bad” LDL cholesterol, but on the other, it can actually increase your “good” HDL cholesterol. The Harvard Heart Letter recommends several types of foods that can help lower LDL cholesterol. The main feature of most is their high amount of soluble fiber:
Barley and other whole grains
Eggplant, okra and other high-fiber vegetables
Apples, grapes, strawberries and citrus fruits
Soy (such as tofu)
Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna (because of their omega-3 fatty acids)
Fortunately, many of the same foods that fight hypertension also reduce cholesterol. If you incorporate healthy helpings of these foods into your diet this season, your body may never notice that extra piece of pie.