Aging Gracefully

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The Eyes of Dr. Weil

You are over 70, but I don’t recall ever seeing you wear corrective eyeglasses. What’s been the story of your personal eye health?
I was diagnosed as nearsighted in junior high school, and was wearing glasses by the time I entered high school. At some point as a college undergraduate, I got tired of them, so I just stopped wearing them. I never used glasses again until about 12 years ago. I use them only for distance, such as when I am driving.

That’s extraordinary…
Yes, I guess it is. People with me say, "Do you have contact lenses, how can you read such small print?" I can read telephone directories, all sorts of things. I guess it is considered unusual.

Do you have any explanation for that?
No I don’t, except maybe spending a lot of time outdoors and looking at distant things helped. But I also just made some kind of decision that I was not going to be dependent on glasses for reading. So I just wear glasses for driving, and if I am in a movie theater. But I do wear non-prescription sunglasses frequently when I am outdoors. Especially in Arizona.

I’ve seen your sunglasses, and they look pretty formidable. What is the story behind them?
They are actually cheap. I just look for cheap sunglasses that give wraparound protection and guarantee good UV blocking. I like cheap ones because I tend to lose them (laughs).

Yet isn’t one of the problems of modern life the fact that many of us are light-starved? Don’t we need to see bright light to regulate our circadian rhythms and hormonal balance?
There is a balance that we need to achieve. A certain amount of light is necessary for optimal physical and mental health. But I also think it is clear that over time, bright UV light does damage to the retina.

Macular degeneration is widespread as we age. Have you shown any signs of that?
No, I’ve been told I have no signs of it. Nor of cataract.

Do you think the fact that you’ve eaten an antioxidant-rich diet and taken supplements throughout your life has helped your eyes?
Yes, and I’ve also been careful about UV protection. Those are the only two real things you can do to lower the risk of those degenerative diseases.

What about eye exercises, do they work?
I am skeptical. I think they feel good, but I don’t think they can correct vision. The Bates Method, the Tibetan eye charts, I just don’t think they help much.

That having been said, I do think a major reason there is so much nearsightedness is that kids spend an inordinate amount of time staring at phone and computer screens. They don’t spend enough time outdoors, looking at distant things, which keeps the muscles that control distant vision strong and flexible. When looking at something close, everyone, adults and children, needs to look up regularly and focus on something distant.

This is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. What should people who have the condition do?
No serious eye condition – such as macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy or glaucoma – should be treated solely with alternative approaches. An ophthalmologist’s care is vital. Conventional treatment usually involves prescription eye drops and drugs to control the elevated internal pressure in the eyeball. But there is some evidence that you can also help ease the condition by not smoking and lowering caffeine intake. A responsible exercise program such as brisk walking – be sure to check with your doctor beforehand – and taking antioxidants such as vitamin C can also be useful.

What should one do for simple eyestrain?
Rinsing the eyes with a sterile saline solution is good. Cool, wet teabags pressed on the eyelids are also very soothing.

By Brad Lemley
DrWeil.com News

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