Ocular nutrition is essential because it plays a crucial role in maintaining the health and function of the eyes. The eyes are complex organs requiring specific nutrients to support their structures and processes. Many individuals are unaware of nutrition’s significant role in maintaining eye health. By discussing ocular nutrition, eye care professionals can educate their patients about the importance of a healthy diet and how specific nutrients can benefit their eyes. This empowers patients to make informed decisions about their diet and lifestyle to support their eye health. Explore the transformative power of nutrition in promoting eye health in this riveting podcast with Dr. Darryl Glover and Dr. Rudrani Banik. Unpack the role of diet in combating common and severe eye conditions, and uncover practical tips for nurturing ocular wellness through balanced nutrition.

Who is Dr. Rudrani Banik?

Dr. Rani Banik is America’s Integrative Eye Doctor. She is a board-certified ophthalmologist and fellowship-trained neuro-ophthalmologist with additional Integrative and Functional Medicine training.

Dr. Rani focuses on the root cause of eye diseases and uses integrative strategies for conditions such as dry eye, thyroid eye disease, macular degeneration, cataract, glaucoma, and other autoimmune diseases of the visual system. She is also interested in migraine with visual symptoms, multiple sclerosis, and eye stroke. Her treatments are based on nutrition, botanicals, lifestyle modification, essential oils, and supplements.

Dr. Rani runs a private practice based in New York City and is also an Associate Professor at Mount Sinai in NYC, where she serves as an educator and researcher. As Principal Investigator of several clinical trials in optic nerve diseases, Dr. Rani uses cutting-edge approaches such as nanotechnology and gene therapy.

Dr. Rani is frequently featured as an expert in the media and has been interviewed on Good Morning America, CBS, NBC, ABC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Fox, amongst many others. Dr. Rani has been voted Castle Connolly’s Top Doctor and New York Magazine’s Best Doctor in Ophthalmology every year since 2017.

Dr. Rani’s first book, “Beyond Carrots – Best Foods For Eye Health A to Z” has won high praise from medical professionals in both the fields of ophthalmology and integrative medicine.  “Beyond Carrots” focuses on the 30+ nutrients and 40 foods that best provide complete nutrition for your eyes. Dr. Rani also has a companion cookbook, “The Beyond Carrots Cookbook,” which includes over 160 delicious and nutritious recipes that will be a feast for your eyes! Both are available via Amazon and Kindle in print and eBook versions.

Kickstarting the Conversation on Eye Nutrition

Dr. Darryl Glover: 

Nutrient needs for the eyes, I’ve got it. Delicious recipes for the eyes, I’ve got it. Tune into today’s podcast. We have an amazing show in store for you. It’s all about nutrition, eye nutrition 101, baby. Let’s get started. It’s all about you today. So if you don’t mind, please share your background.

Dr. Rudrani Banik:

Absolutely, I’d love to. I’m a New Yorker, born and raised just north of the city. I went to medical school without a clear idea of the field I wanted to specialize in, but I gravitated toward ophthalmology. Yet, I also had a keen interest in neurology, making the decision quite challenging.

Ultimately, I chose ophthalmology because it’s about the eyes! What could be more fascinating than eyes, right? It’s a small yet incredibly complex organ, an essential part of our lives. So, I dove into ophthalmology, and during my residency in California, I pondered whether to opt for comprehensive ophthalmology training or pursue a fellowship.

Intriguingly, my love for neurology led me to a fellowship in neuro-ophthalmology. After traveling around the country for my training, I moved back to New York and joined the faculty at Albert Einstein in the Bronx.

However, my career took a turn when I started suffering from severe migraines. I had experienced migraines before, but they got so bad that I woke up with stabbing headaches every day. As someone who has had a migraine knows, it’s not a pleasant experience. Despite trying various medications, nothing seemed to alleviate the pain.

Finally, I had to take matters into my own hands. I turned towards more holistic therapies, including dietary supplements, lifestyle changes, and diet modifications. It was then that I realized the power of these natural strategies. Despite having seen numerous doctors, not one neurologist ever discussed my diet. Meanwhile, I was living off pizza, ice cream, diet soda, and consuming eight to twelve caffeinated drinks daily. It had never occurred to me that my dietary choices could be the root cause of these debilitating headaches.

However, my health drastically improved once I adjusted my lifestyle and diet. I began to incorporate these strategies into my patients’ treatments, those suffering from migraines and eye issues.

Diving Deep into Nutrient Needs for the Eye

Dr. Darryl Glover: 

What I’d like to kick off our conversation with today is the nutritional needs of the eye.

Dr. Rudrani Banik:

During my training, we had a nutrition class where we mostly learned about macronutrients like fats, carbohydrates, proteins, and the fact that a lack of vitamin C can cause scurvy. That was the extent of it. This, I believe, was a significant gap in my training. I only came to appreciate the power of nutrition when I observed its impact on other conditions, leading me to consider eye health.

The conversation about eye health often starts with the macular carotenoids, lutein and xanthin. These nutrients are commonly known for their importance in macular degeneration. However, they’re vital for much more than just that. They’re potent antioxidants, strategically placed in the fovea, the area of our eye most susceptible to light damage, whether it’s UV light damage or potential short wavelength blue light damage. Therefore, boosting our lutein and xanthin levels is essential, especially with all the screen time we’re exposed to these days.

Patients often ask me if they should get blue-blocking glasses. I usually respond by suggesting they first try to enhance their eyes’ natural blue blocking abilities by consuming foods rich in these nutrients. 

Next, we have to consider beta-carotene, which aids vitamin A production, and night vision and alleviates dry eye. Then, there are the omegas, specifically omega-3s. Plenty of research has been published on the benefits of omega-3s, for example, the Women’s Health Study, which linked them to reduced frequency and severity of dry eye and macular degeneration.

Here’s a fun fact: DHA and EPA, the omega-3s, are present in the highest concentration in the retina. A key component of our photoreceptor cell membrane, we require a constant supply of DHA to replenish our photoreceptors throughout the light processing pathway.

The less familiar ones would be the bioflavonoids and polyphenols. These are plant compounds that protect the plant against infections, toxins, oxidative stress, and UV light. By consuming these nutrient-rich plants, we reap the benefits of their protective mechanisms. 

There’s fascinating emerging research on certain bioflavonoids and polyphenols that have shown potential benefits for macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataract, dry eye, and even inflammatory conditions like uveitis. They serve as potent antioxidants, antimicrobials, and anti-inflammatory compounds.

There are over 4,000 of these compounds described in nature. The most researched for eye health are cetin, found in cherries, red onions, and apple skins, and resveratrol, found in red wine, red grapes, and also cherries. 

There are other lesser-known compounds like heparin and rutin, citrus-based bioflavonoids, that have shown potential benefits for conditions like macular degeneration. 

The bottom line is, eat a plant-rich diet. Whether you’re a carnivore, vegan, or vegetarian, it doesn’t matter. By consuming a diversity of plants, you’ll get all your vitamins, minerals, bioflavonoids, and polyphenols.

We need to step our game up, advise our patients to do the same, and help them connect the dots. While our knowledge of nutrition may be limited due to the lack of emphasis in our training, our patients are becoming more interested in the topic. We need to rise to the occasion and facilitate these conversations.

Simplifying the Start towards Better Nutrition

Dr. Darryl Glover: 

That sounds like a really practical way to get started, and I think that’s what a lot of people struggle with. It’s like, okay, I want to make this change, but where do I begin? It can seem so overwhelming. Your suggestion of a green smoothie is a great place to start.

Let’s talk about, um, like a big issue like diabetes. It’s very common. How does diet factor in with diabetic eye disease, and what advice would you give to those patients?

Dr. Rudrani Banik:

Absolutely. So with diabetes, it’s a huge problem. And the first thing I tell patients is, we’ve got to control your blood sugar levels. The key to that is diet. It’s about limiting the intake of processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and sugary drinks, which all lead to spikes in blood sugar levels.

I tell my patients with diabetes that one of the best things they can do for their eyes is to adopt a diet rich in whole foods, particularly plants. This isn’t just good for controlling blood sugar levels. Whole foods are packed with the nutrients our eyes need to stay healthy, like vitamins A, C, and E, lutein, and omega-3 fatty acids.

And, I think it’s important to note, it’s not just about avoiding certain foods. It’s also about incorporating beneficial foods. For example, foods high in fiber can help regulate blood sugar levels, and foods high in omega-3s can reduce inflammation, which is often elevated in people with diabetes.But again, it’s about starting small. Incorporate one change at a time, like starting the day with a green smoothie, or swapping out a sugary afternoon snack for a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit. And of course, regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are crucial as well.

We also cannot stress enough the importance of regular eye exams to catch and treat diabetic eye disease early. All these steps, combined with the necessary medical care, can help protect the vision of people with diabetes.

The Fatty Facts: Healthy Fats and Eye Health

Dr. Darryl Glover: 

I love how you’re connecting the dots for people, not just suggesting a specific supplement, but emphasizing the importance of a balanced, diverse diet and how that positively affects different areas of our health.

As we’re talking about diet, nutrition, gut health, and eye health, what’s your take on fats? We often hear about healthy fats and unhealthy fats. Do you have any specific recommendations for your patients?

Dr. Rudrani Banik:

Absolutely. Fat is a necessary part of our diet, and it’s important to understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy fats. Unhealthy fats, like trans fats and saturated fats, can lead to inflammation in the body and negatively impact eye health, especially conditions like macular degeneration.

On the other hand, healthy fats, particularly omega-3 fatty acids, can play a beneficial role in eye health. Omega-3s have been shown to help with dry eye syndrome, prevent macular degeneration, and even maintain optimal eye pressure, which is crucial for glaucoma patients.

Sources of these healthy fats include foods like chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts. For non-vegetarians, fatty fish like salmon or sardines are good sources.

It’s important to note that dietary fat needs to be balanced with other nutrients. I recommend incorporating a variety of nutrient-dense foods for overall health and wellbeing, which in turn supports good eye health.

Finally, it’s important to remember that individual dietary needs can vary greatly, so it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare provider before making significant changes to your diet.

Unmasking Migraines: The Dehydration Connection

Dr. Darryl Glover: 

Why is dehydration a trigger for migraines?

Dr. Rudrani Banik:

What happens in a migraine is that the blood vessels in our brain are very sensitive to changes. So often, if there’s a trigger, whether it be dehydration, hunger, stress, or lack of sleep, they’ll constrict.

When the blood vessels constrict, many people may experience the visual aura of a migraine, which is the scintillating scotoma. As eye care providers, we see this all the time. Patients come in absolutely scared to death that they’re having a stroke because they have these zigzag lines in their vision. 

That’s what we believe is happening. Initially, there’s a constriction, then an electrical change, and then the blood vessels dilate, leading to the headache. One of the biggest triggers for this constriction is dehydration.

Hydration Hacks for Optimal Health

Dr. Darryl Glover: 

So the next question is, how much water should you tell your patients to drink? 

Dr. Rudrani Banik:

Let’s get into it. I believe hydration needs should be personalized based on the patient’s body weight. For example, someone who weighs 120 pounds doesn’t have the same hydration requirements as someone who weighs 250 pounds. 

What I tell patients is to take their weight in pounds, divide by two, and aim for that number of fluid ounces a day. However, there’s a limit to that. For instance, if someone weighs 160 pounds, they should aim for 80 fluid ounces a day. 

And it doesn’t have to be only water. There’s a misconception that patients have to consume all their fluid intake from water. They can also consume other hydrating drinks, as long as they aren’t high in sugar or caffeinated, because caffeine can dehydrate you. 

Patients can also eat their water. There are many plants that are super hydrating and full of water content. If they’re having a big salad full of leafy greens or a fruit salad with water-dense fruits like cantaloupe and watermelon, they’re getting a lot of water from that. They can count that as part of their hydration requirement. Even tomatoes are highly hydrating. 

The other thing to remember is the importance of electrolytes.


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