Well, ladies, we’ve thought it all along. Now, we have proof: women really do see things differently than men do! Yes, I’m having a little fun with this, however, there really is a correlation between hormones — particularly the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone — and eyesight. Other hormones, including insulin and thyroid hormone, can also have an enormous impact on your eyesight and overall eye health. Fortunately, I’ve found that Astaxanthin can be a great support for your eyesight.
Let’s take a quick look at how your eyes work. Then we’ll tackle eyesight changes that can be the result of normal hormonal fluctuations over the course of your life. I’ll also walk you through the impact of autoimmunity and hormone issues on eye health.
Finally, I’ll share how a natural substance called Astaxanthin can make a big impact on your eye health. I’ll talk more about the benefits of astaxanthin below and why I’m so excited about what it can do for your eyesight.
How Does Eyesight Work?
In addition to being one of the most beautiful and expressive parts of our bodies, our eyes are truly amazing in the way they function. Think of eyesight as a multi-step process that involves your eye itself, your optic nerve, and your brain.
Your cornea, a clear, rounded surface, covers the front of your eye. Light enters here and is regulated by the iris, the colored part of your eye. The light that is filtered by the iris then hits the lens, another transparent structure. The lens focuses light rays onto the retina, a sensitive nerve layer that lines the back of the eye.
The image that lands on your retina appears upside-down. The retina has two types of cells. One is the rods, which rim the retina and are active in dim light. The other is cones, which are mostly in the center of your retina. They help you see colors and details.
From the retina, your optic nerve carries signals of light, dark, and colors to the visual cortex area of your brain. Here the signal is assembled into right-side-up images. This is what you actually perceive as eyesight or vision. Other parts of your brain then process what you are seeing into information you can use, such as “Here’s an animal with big teeth. Run!”
Female Hormone Increases and Eyesight
One of the most common eyesight issues is myopia, or nearsightedness. Myopia occurs more frequently in girls (7.4%) than boys (5.1%).1 This is believed to be due to the effects of female sex hormones on the eye’s delicate structure. During puberty, the surge in estrogen can affect cornea thickness, leading to permanent changes in the eye’s structure and thus, eyesight.2 During menstruation when estrogen hormone levels elevate, your eyesight may become blurry. You may also find your lachrymal glands produce more tears during this time, leading to watery eyes.
During pregnancy, your body is flooded with hormones including human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG), progesterone, estrogen, oxytocin, prolactin, and relaxin. These increased hormone levels can cause blurred eyesight as well as difficulty in focusing. Elevated levels of these hormones can also affect your vision by making your eyes more sensitive to light.
You may also find that the rising hormone levels of pregnancy cause you to retain more water. This fluid may build up behind the eye or in the eyeball itself, creating changes to the cornea’s shape. This, too, can also cause blurry vision. These changes are likely to be simply a temporary annoyance.
However, if you experience sudden eyesight changes during pregnancy, it may be a sign of preeclampsia. Research is ongoing, however, preeclampsia is thought to be an autoimmune or inflammatory condition, in addition to having a hormonal component.3 This serious condition affects 2-8% of all pregnancies.4 It is marked by high blood pressure and organ damage, usually to the liver or kidneys. Symptoms can include light sensitivity, blurred eyesight, seeing auras or flashing lights, and even a temporary loss of vision. See your healthcare professional immediately if you experience these symptoms.
Female Hormone Decreases and Eyesight
On the other side of the spectrum, a drop in estrogen levels, such as those that occur during perimenopause and menopause, can also impact eye health. This is often the result of reduced tear production. Tears help flush particles from your eyes and keep them lubricated. Dry eye, or lack of tears, can result in a number of uncomfortable symptoms, including sensitivity to sun and wind, burning, stinging, and scratchiness. The decreased ability to clear irritants from the eye can lead to scratches on the surface of your eye called corneal abrasions.
Extreme dry eyes can be a symptom of Sjögren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that occurs when your immune system attacks your moisture-producing glands. It usually begins in the salivary and lacrimal (tear-producing) glands, causing painfully dry eyes and mouth. It’s believed to be related to a drop in female sex hormones as it often affects women in or approaching menopause.5
In a strange twist, for some people, the dry eyes caused by reduced estrogen can actually lead to watery eyes. If dry eye persists, your tear ducts may begin to overcompensate by producing a greater quantity of tears than usual, overwhelming your tear drainage system.
A Window on your Health
While poets may call your eyes “the window to your soul,” healthcare professionals can use your eyes as a window into the state of your health. In fact, your eye is the only place where certain structures that are normally hidden deep within your body are visible. That’s because, as we discussed earlier, the eye has two transparent structures. This provides an unrestricted view into your blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue, where the impact of hormone imbalances, as well as autoimmune conditions and other issues, may be seen.
Insulin and Eyesight
The hormone insulin, secreted by your pancreas, enables your body to process the sugar in your blood to be used by your body for energy. When you don’t produce enough insulin, or you can’t access the insulin you create, your blood sugar levels remain unusually high and can result in diabetes.
This can affect your eye health in several ways. Chronically high blood sugar from diabetes is associated with damage to the tiny blood vessels in the retina, leading to a condition called diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy can cause blood vessels in the retina to bleed, distorting your eyesight.
It can also cause new, abnormal blood vessels to grow along the inside surface of the retina and into the vitreous gel, the fluid that fills the eye. These new blood vessels are fragile and likely to leak and bleed. The resulting scar tissue can contract and cause your retina to pull away from the surrounding tissue. Retinal detachment can lead to permanent loss of eyesight.6
Another common eyesight issue that results from insulin deficiencies is called macular edema. The part of your retina that is responsible for the sharp, central vision you need for reading, driving, and recognizing faces, is called the macula. The build-up of fluid in any part of the body is called edema. As a result of diabetes, fluid can build up in the macula causing it to swell and thicken, which distorts eyesight.
Thyroid Hormone and Eyesight
Thyroid hormone is crucially involved in the development of eyesight, and controls which visual pigment, or opsin, is produced in the cones within your retina.7 Recent research also suggests opsin production in mature cones continues to depend on thyroid hormone level, so color eyesight may be affected by deficiencies in thyroid hormone.8
In fact, eye health issues and eyesight problems are often early signs of thyroid dysfunction. Thyroid eye disease (TED) is an autoimmune disease. It can cause dry eyes, watery eyes, red or pink eyes, baggy or puffy eyes, bulging eyes, or a fixed stare. As for eyesight itself, it can cause double vision and blurry eyesight. It is mainly associated with an over-active thyroid such as in Graves’ disease, yet these eye health issues can also occur in people with underactive thyroid function.
Because the eye may be pushed forward, and because the eyelids are pulled open by the muscles, you may have difficulty closing your eyelids. This can lead to corneal ulcers, which causes scarring and permanent loss of eyesight. Swollen tissues can also compress the optic nerve, affecting color perception, and causing “floaters” and an overall dimming of eyesight.
What You Can Do for Eye Health?
Visit an eye care professional annually. She or he can not only test your eyesight and offer corrective lenses if needed, they will also monitor your overall eye health. They can alert you to other health problems such as high blood pressure, and the signs of insulin and thyroid imbalances that can show up in your eyes.
Dry eyes are one of the most common complaints about eye health. You can get some relief from dry eye symptoms simply by preventing your tears from evaporating. Use a humidifier and avoid overly dry, warm rooms, hairdryers, smoke, and wind. Unpreserved saline solution drops can offer relief to irritated, bloodshot eyes. I recommend purchasing sterile, single-use doses for optimal eye health.
A diet that eliminates the toxic and inflammatory foods that are the common culprits behind autoimmune disease can help reverse the insulin resistance and thyroid disorders that impact eye health. Gluten and dairy are the top two most inflammatory foods. I recommend completely removing these from your diet and never adding them back in both for your overall health and for your eye health.
How Does Astaxanthin Support Eye Health?
Finally, for eye health, I strongly recommend supplementing with Astaxanthin. Astaxanthin is a naturally occurring chemical called a carotenoid that’s found in a special type of algae. It was first isolated in 1983.1
This algae is one of salmon’s favorite foods and gives the fish its distinctive pink color. However, Astaxanthin has a lot more going for it than just a pretty color. Like all carotenoids, astaxanthin is a powerful free-radical scavenger. There are more than 600 other carotenoids found in nature. These include the beta carotene that gives fruits and vegetables such as apricots and carrots their orange color.
Yet Astaxanthin is by far the most potent free-radical scavenger. Have you heard heard that carrots are good for your eyesight? That’s because of their carotenoid content. In fact, carotenoids have long been hailed for boosting eyesight. Recently, multiple studies have explored the connection between astaxanthin and eye health.
We discovered that Astaxanthin is unique among the carotenoids. Its structure allows it to filter into every type of cell. Once inside a cell, astaxanthin can lend its electrons to stabilize free radicals. One end of the molecule protects the fat-soluble part of cells. The other protects the water-soluble part of cells. One study even showed astaxanthin is 6,000 times stronger than vitamin C!
It seems to be particularly supportive for those who experience eye strain from blue light or the sun’s UV rays. Astaxanthin has the unique ability to actually reach the retina. There, astaxanthin can support the health and integrity of the retinal membrane.
Be alert to any changes in your vision. You can impact your eyesight with astaxanthin and some simple lifestyle changes that support hormone balance and overall eye health. With a little knowledge and care, you’ll be looking forward to a healthy future!