—A Special Report from Victor Marchione, MD
Most people will admit to not being able to see as well at nighttime. But, really, as your eyes adjust to the light, you should be able to see shapes and figures and a certain amount of detail, even when it’s very dark. Night blindness occurs when you cannot make out these shapes or when your vision is distorted in dim lighting. There’s actually no full “blindness” experienced in this disease, but rather a type of reduced vision. So, night blindness (either night myopia or nyctalopia) is an impaired ability to see at night, even though vision is normal in sunlight.
To understand night blindness a little better, here’s a quick primer on how your eyes “see” at night. Your eye is made up of rods (light-sensitive cells that are needed for night vision) and cones (which function best in bright light). In the retina, there’s an abundance of rods. However, there are several minerals and vitamins needed to keep the rods healthy and if they are deprived, they degenerate. This causes an impaired ability to see when there is minimal light. Fortunately, some things do help to increase your seeing power when it gets dark.
Being able to see at night is just as important as being able to see during the day. After-all, for those living in a northern climate, daylight can be gone by 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. for much of the year. Socializing, community involvement, and activities can all take place after the dinner hour. Not be able to see once the sun goes down can have a huge impact on the quality of your life. Protecting and keeping your night vision is something you may want to think about.
Your eyes require a lot of nutrients to stay healthy. In fact, it is estimated that 25% of the nutrients you absorb from the foods you digest goes towards maintaining your visual system! As you age, you may not be getting or absorbing enough nutrients from your diet. When you combine this with the fact that certain muscles in the eyes weaken with age, before you know it, your night vision has decreased noticeably. Researchers estimate that a 50-year-old driver needs twice as much light to see after dark as a 30-year-old.
What can you do to preserve your vision? Try supplementing you diet with some bilberries. Bilberries are high in a number of nutrients that can benefit eye health. A recent clinical trial found that bilberries increased oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) levels — meaning that bilberries helped fight vision-threatening damage to the eyes. Bilberries also increased vitamin C levels, as well as helping with copper/zinc absorption and manganese absorption (other important minerals in eye health). That’s a pretty amazing collection of benefits all found in one little berry! Take a look around and see if you can find some bilberries — if not go for blueberries and raspberries. All berries are good for eye health and should be eaten on a regular basis.