Don't lose access to your sensory channel

While we are young, most of us take for granted the beauty of the sky seen with perfect 20/20 vision or the lilting song of the morning dove greeting us from the tree outside our window. Our senses provide us with this wonderful colorized, surround-sound touchy-feely world that helps define us and gives meaning to our lives. As we age, our senses can fail and we can lose connection with this sensory extravaganza known as the outside world.

Nutrition can be used to safeguard and protect our precious ability to see and hear as we grow older. Newer research shows us how to use several key nutrients that may lower your risk of losing your sensory connection.

Let's first look at the eye. Older eyes are susceptible to vision loss from various age-related conditions, especially cataracts; glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) can also cause you to lose vision.

More than half of people over age 75 suffer cataracts, a cloudiness in the lens. Cataracts left untreated can also lead to glaucoma -- a more serious eye condition which, when left untreated, can lead to blindness.

Foods containing lutein, or carotenoids (pigments in fruits and vegetables) may lower your risk of cataracts and help prevent glaucoma. Your best lutein foods are vitamin C foods, citrus fruits, strawberries, blueberries potatoes, tomatoes and kiwi.

AMD is a disturbing cause of blindness for 10 million elderly Americans. AMD is an overgrowth of blood vessels in the eye where they don't belong, destroying sections of the macula. A new drug, Visudyne, is proving to be helpful for AMD. Nutrients and herbs that are proving helpful in treatment include Bilberry, Ginkgo Biloba, Grape seed extract, zinc and soy products.

Vitamin E has also been shown to be beneficial for eye health. Vitamin E foods are nuts, olive oils, wheat germ, sunflower seeds and avocados.

Herbs and minerals also play a role in eye health. Bilberry, high in anti-oxidants and minerals, is known to strengthen the capillaries and small veins surrounding the eyes. It has been shown to improve night vision by helping the eye adjust to darkness more quickly. Eyebright, high in trace minerals, is another valuable herb that has been shown to strengthen all parts of the eye including the optic nerve. Small isolated studies have shown that the mineral selenium has actually helped reverse cataracts.

Hearing loss, although disturbing, may seem to some as less of a problem than vision loss. The next time you are with an elderly person who suffers uncorrected hearing loss take a few minutes to notice how much they miss out on. They usually tend to feel left out, isolated and less a part of things.

Hearing loss affects one third of all adults between the ages of 65 and 74 and increases to 50 percent after age 75. Chronic infection, stroke, noise exposure and injury are the most common causes of hearing loss.

Properly fitted hearing aids correct or improve approximately 95 percent of all hearing-impaired individuals. The hearing aid has evolved from a highly visible device to tiny sophisticated and discreet minicomputer.

Cochlear implants help in a small number of patients suffering profound hearing loss. This surgery can be helpful when other avenues have been unsuccessful.

Nutrients that have shown promise in hearing loss include Alpha-lipoic acid. Studies show this compound lessens auditory nerve damage.

Ginkgo Biloba and the mineral tin have been shown to lessen tinnitus. Tinnitus is a ringing in the ear which for some can be so loud it crowds out the desired auditory stimuli.

Protecting your eyes from undue amounts of UV rays and your ears from deafening noise when you are young is one of the best ways of keeping your senses healthy well into your elder years. Smoking has also been shown to harm our senses, so quit while you're ahead.

I'd love to ''hear'' from you, but if not ''see'' you next time, Rebecca.

To find more about Rebecca Huber and read other columns visit

Uploaded to The Zephyr website March 12, 2002

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