A new report says yes, but another expert says . . .
“For decades, scientists have looked for explanations as to why certain conditions occur with age, among them memory loss, slower reaction time, insomnia and even depression. . . . Now, a fascinating body of research supports a largely unrecognized culprit: the aging of the eye.” —The New York Times, February 20, 2012
FOFs are buzzing (and panicking) about last week’s article in The New York Times that examines a body of research from Dr. Martin Mainster and Dr. Patricia Turner, two ophthalmologists from the University of Kansas School of Medicine. Mainster and Turner claim that the gradual yellowing of the lens and narrowing of the pupil that occur with age prevent sunlight from getting through to key cells in the eye. They claim that this disturbs our circadian rhythms–the body’s natural clock–and leaves us at greater risk for a number of ailments, including insomnia, heart disease, cancer and depression. Their evidence is compelling: Based on their research, Mainster and Turner estimate that by age 45, the average adult receives just 50 percent of the light needed to fully stimulate the circadian system. By age 55, it dips to 37 percent and by age 75, to a mere 17 percent. “We believe the effect is huge,” says Dr. Turner.
The two doctors claim there is much research left to do, however they recommend that as we age we should make an effort to expose ourselves to bright sunlight or bright indoor lighting. They are also wary of cataract surgery that involves the implantation of “blue-blocking” lenses, as these may further limit the critical light that reaches the eye. Mainster and Turner have installed skylights and extra fluorescent lights in their own offices to help offset the effects.
So is it time to panic? Should you install windows in the ceiling or move your office to the front lawn? Not so fast says Dr. Russell Fumuso, MD, an ophthalmologist, surgeon and Founding Partner of Ophthalmic Consultants of Long Island (OCLI), one of the largest ophthalmology practices in the country. “The article sounds very dire,” Dr. Fumoso admits. “If you read it, you might think that as you age, you’re inevitably not going to be able to sleep; you’re going to get depressed….you’re going to become some sort of a zombie. In reality, that’s just not true. Everyone in the world gets cataracts as they age–not everyone experiences these other ailments.”
Fumuso goes on to point out that there are other reasons one begins to see sleep disturbances, heart disease and depression in patients in their 50s…namely, menopause. “The body systems are all interconnected, so looking at the eye as the root of all these problems is . . . problematic. It would be nice if it were the answer to everything, but it doesn’t work that way.”
When it comes to the “blue-blocking” lens implants that Mainster and Turner oppose, Dr. Fumuso says, “That’s the Alcon lens. It’s be implanted in over 26 million people in the last 10 years–that’s a pretty good track record. If you’re concerned, talk to your doctor–there are other options.”
So what can we do to preserve eye health and function as long as possible–if not skylight installation? “Stop smoking!” says Dr. Fumuso. “And eat a healthy diet. Your eyes are a lifetime in the making.”