I've been thinking about vision a lot.
Specifically, my vision for what's ahead for me, personally and for the brand that is currently “Ben Greenfield Fitness.”
Related to that, and as I discuss in this article, I feel strongly that vision and direction in life are important, and recently it has become more clear to me what shape my life and business may look like in the next five years. What has emerged from a process of contemplation and self-examination is a move away from being known as a purely “biohacking and fitness expert” towards a greater identity as a storyteller, as a dynamic, motivational speaker on topics near and dear to my heart and as someone who opens you up to the wisdom and ideas of not just, say, coaches, physiologists, athletes, and scientists, but also economists, politicians, modern-day philosophers, authors, spiritual leaders, and the like.
So for me, when I hear the word “vision,” that direction and purpose are top of mind. And yes, based on that, you can expect some big changes coming down the pipeline in 2021 and 2022, particularly related to the content I put out there for you.
But not a lot of this is related to literal vision, is it? Now, that's probably at least partly thanks to the fact that I am fortunate to have 20/20 eyesight. I have been spared ever needing to bother with trying to stick a contact in my eye or fumbling for a pair of reading glasses. I attribute much of this to my relatively healthy, eye-supportive diet that you'll get more details on below, and also to the fact that I live in a relatively non-urban setting with plenty of mountains, trees, horizons, and other far-away objects that allow me to frequently be shifting and adjusting my gaze, which is actually quite important and much better for the eyes than the average “city-folk” who are often only presented with objects fifty feet or less from themselves for most of the day, along with plenty of close-up screen time that keeps the eye muscles in a contracted, myopia-inducing position while also introducing retinal damage from high amounts of LED and fluorescent flicker and backlighting.
Don't get me wrong, though: I also don't take my eagle eyes for granted, because the visual system is highly subject to age-related decline, and now that I am (apparently) approaching middle age, it's more important than ever that I take steps to protect my eyesight. Regardless of your age, unless you have eschewed all technology and live in a forest or a cave, modern living has likely put your eyes in a precarious position. Harmful artificial light is everywhere, screen exposure is at an all-time high, and staring at mountains and far-off horizons is a bit more of a rarity these days.
In this article, I talk about the negative health impact of artificial light sources on endocrine and cellular levels in humans which includes the risk of cataracts, blindness, and age-related macular degeneration. I also present a rather illuminating (hah), yet troubling study that concluded that light-emitting diodes (LEDs)—a type of semiconductor light source that emits light when current flows through it—can cause severe retinal damage to the photoreceptors in your eye and have even been shown to induce necrosis (cell death!) in eye tissue. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) can also cause similar issues and can induce oxidative stress damage that affects not only the eyes but also sensitive photoreceptors on many other areas of the skin, along with endocrine and hormonal damage.
I am kind of a fanatic about limiting blue light exposure. For example, I have a pair of Ra Optics blue-light-blocking glasses handy at all times (listen to my podcast with Ra Optics founder Matt Maruca for more on the impact of light on your biology), I have Iris installed on all our home computers, I use an eye-friendly BenQ external computer monitor, I have natural incandescent lighting in my home, etc., etc. I also take fish oil—more on that below—and throw plenty of eye-supporting superfoods into my morning anti-aging smoothie. I've even gone so far as to put my vision through training as rigorous as my bodily fitness routine with a program called Vision Gym.
Now, while you may not feel quite ready to put your eyes through a structured training program, I do encourage you to take a closer look (heh!) at your visual health. Parents, this is also a call to think about how your children are affected by light and screens, and what steps you can take to both limit harmful exposure and support their visual health through nutrition because the concerning reality is that you don't even know how modern technology will change age-related visual decline, as the upcoming generations are the first to be subject to the onslaught of smartphones, social media, video games, and computers.
In this article you're about to read, Gregory Kelly, ND (Naturopathic Doctor) of Neurohacker Collective—the groundbreaking formulators behind Qualia nootropics, including the new Qualia Vision supplement that my wife and I are now experimenting with—shares his insight into what's happening right now with visual health and what you can do to protect your own eyes and even reverse eye disease, decline, and digital strain.
Eye Health Is On The Decline
Yet this generation's advances are stressing your visual system far beyond what it has evolved to handle.
New technology and lifestyle choices bombard your eyes with forms of stress that have well-established links to visual health decline. You probably already know that screen time isn't good for your eyes. But you may have no idea how to address this problem, as digital means are the primary way of connecting for work and socially. In fact, Americans average 13 hours a day of digital screen time exposure, so it's no wonder that digital eye strain and fatigue are impacting a majority of adults and growing numbers of teens and children. Scientific studies have shown that over 60% (as high as above 90% in some studies) of people who use screens for work or school for moderate to long periods of time report eye strain.
The risk of digital eye strain is heavily influenced by the amount of time spent looking at screens—the longer the worse. The stress placed by screens on your eyes accumulates throughout the day and starts to build as your eyes get tired. But screen stress also accumulates over weeks, months, and years of intense screen exposure. In this case, it manifests as a gradual decline in visual health. And although older age is a risk factor for eye strain, children and adolescents, with their intense use of computers, smartphones, video games, etc, are not impervious to eye strain. In fact, digital eye strain has recently impacted children and adolescents more than ever with remote learning as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The type of screen also influences eye strain, with smaller screens being more problematic. This is probably due to the fact that smaller screens are generally used closer to your eyes—distance to the screen is another risk factor for eye strain, with shorter distances increasing the stress on the eyes.
But although there are many factors that influence how quickly you develop digital eye strain, and the intensity of the eye stress, if you spend enough time looking at screens, you’re likely to experience it regardless of the circumstances. My biggest concern is the research behind the long-term effects of constant digital screen stress, which goes deeper than just blurry vision, dry eyes, and visual fatigue. And unfortunately, wearing blue-light-blocking glasses is not a sufficient way to protect your visual system. They do have a role, and I recommend you have a pair, but they're just a single component of a comprehensive eye health plan.
I’ll get into effective ways to improve visual health later in this article, but first, I want to demystify what your eyes are, and the even larger visual system of which they are a part.
Understanding Human Vision
The visual system is the sensory system that enables sight.
Kind of obvious, right?
But the visual system is far from basic. It includes not just the eyes—the sensory organ for vision—but the neuronal visual pathways of the brain, from the retinas to the cerebral cortex. The eye itself is a complex organ with several different tissues, each with its own important function. All must be healthy for your eye itself to be healthy. But there are a few parts, that I'll describe in more detail below, that are particularly important for the visual process and particularly susceptible to the stress of screen time.
The retina is a neural tissue and an extension of the brain. The retina has several types of neurons that contribute to the generation of the visual signal that is sent to the brain. The light-sensitive sensory neurons that capture the energy of light (in the form of light particles or photons) and transduce it into neuronal impulses are called photoreceptors. Light energy is converted by photoreceptors into a change in membrane potential that, in turn, creates a neurochemical signal that is passed, within your retina, to bipolar neurons and then to ganglion cells. Ganglion cells are the output cells of the retina—their axons join to form the optic nerve which carries the visual information codified in the retina to the brain for further processing. The brain then translates these neuronal signals into mental images.
The lens is a transparent convex disk whose function is to focus light on the retina. The lens is suspended within the eye, behind the pupil, by ligaments attached to the ciliary muscle, which forms a ring inside the eye. The lens bends parallel light rays inwards, making them converge in a point called the focal point, and making that focal point fall at the depression (or pit) at the center of the retina called the fovea, which is surrounded by a ring of pigmented tissue called macula. The lens changes its curvature to focus the light of an object on the fovea to bring its image into sharp focus. The focal point must fall precisely on the retina for the object to be seen in focus. Changes in the shape of the lens are controlled by the ciliary muscle.
Another important component of your eyes is the conjunctiva, which is the clear, thin membrane that covers part of the front surface of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelids. The conjunctiva keeps the front and inner surface of the eye moist and lubricated while protecting against dust, debris, and infection.
The retina, lens, and conjunctiva are just three components of a highly complex visual system that, like many other complex systems in the body, is subject to dysfunction if any of the parts are not functioning correctly.
The video below is a somewhat simplified version of how the visual system functions but is helpful in understanding how the parts of the eye work together to enable sight.
6 Strategies To Reduce Digital Eye Strain
If you've ever spent too long staring at a computer screen or phone, you know what can result…
- Your eyes can feel fatigued and heavy.
- You may experience blurry vision.
- Your eyes can become dry and irritated.
- It may become difficult for you to read or focus.
- You may have heightened sensitivity to light or glare.
All of these issues can then translate to more work breaks to lessen and offset these issues, leading to a decrease in general productivity, to say nothing of correlated declines in visual health over time. However, while screen exposure may feel unavoidable in your daily life, there are plenty of practices that can effectively help to reduce digital eye strain. The following five strategies, practiced daily, can dramatically improve the health of your visual system.
1. Use all the tools in the toolkit.
There’s a bevy of tools readily available in the low-to-no-cost variety that can help mitigate the harm done to your visual health by digital screen exposure. Blue light-blocking glasses limit your exposure to, well, blue light, which can cause retinal damage and also disrupt circadian rhythms. If you're working at a computer most of the day (or even anytime at all), a monitor with built-in eye protection (such as a BenQ monitor) is recommended. There's also software you can install on any monitor for eye protection—Iris is Ben's favorite, and it can do everything from controlling the brightness of the monitor to adjusting your settings based on the sun’s position to decreasing the amount of blue light from the monitor. For watching TV, there's a small box called driftTV that you can plug into your television that removes a significant percentage of the blue light from the content. Just like when you're considering good dietary hygiene and looking at factors such as non-GMO, organic vs. non-organic, gluten vs. gluten-free, etc. it's important to treat your visual health with multi-pronged diligence.
2. Be intentional about screen exposure.
While avoiding screens for work may not be feasible, and there is value in getting the family together for a good movie, much of today's digital screen time involves mindless vegging out. You may treat it as the default use of a couple of hours when you're too tired or too indecisive to decide what else to do with yourself. When you catch yourself staring at a screen mindlessly, try to foster an awareness of this habit and then mindfully switch gears. Go for a walk or take a bath or read a book—engage in an activity that is not only relaxing but has no negative aftereffects and may even be health-promoting. And if you're not vegging out—say, you're working on a writing project that will take most of the workday—taking screen breaks is important. The most effective way to counteract the harm of screen time is to gaze at things that are far away (more on that below), so step outside to look at the horizon regularly.
In a recent episode of The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, neuroscientist Andrew Huberman of Stanford’s Huberman Labs went into some fascinating research about how much your vision capacity is a use-it-or-lose-it proposition. Meaning, in an era where you're probably staring at screens two feet from your face most of the day, a very good maintenance practice to visual health is to conversely spend time focusing on objects far away. When you're looking at objects close-up, your ciliary muscles—the primary muscle in your eye's middle layer—contract, but if you're looking farther away, the ciliary muscles have a chance to relax. If you're a hunter, skier, surfer, or birdwatcher, this type of practice is already incorporated into your life. If it's not, finding a hobby that normalizes focusing on distance, rather than objects in front of your face, habituates what used to be a far more common focus practice in ancestral times, when things on the horizon posed far more of a daily threat. The focus (literally) has become so lopsided in the digital era from what your eyes were designed to experience. Make an effort to give the focus of your eyes more distance-balance throughout the day. (Ben's article on forward motion talks more about Dr. Huberman's work.)
4. Consider the surrounding lighting.
Ever find yourself in bed late at night catching up on Instagram or texts? Or with your laptop open answering emails? Unfortunately, a major contributor to the effects of digital screen exposure is the degree of lighting contrast between the screen and the surrounding environment. If you need to work at night, or you can't resist a social media catchup, using your screens in a lighted room is in fact preferred (daylight is best). And eye strain is not the only result of bright screens at night; that sort of exposure can contribute to major sleep disturbances. As far as lighting in your home, as mentioned before, LED lighting is a cause for significant health concerns, which is why natural incandescent bulbs are all over Ben's house. OLEDs (organic light emitting diodes) are also a decent option—OLEDs utilize thin layers of organic compounds rather than the harmful blue lights coated with yellow phosphor in traditional LEDs.
5. Take breaks.
There’s a mountain of research supporting the importance of disrupting sitting uninterrupted for hours on end. The same general physiologic principles hold true for your eyes. If you have three hours of computer work to do, factor in 15-minute breaks intermittently that change the distance and lighting focus for your eyes. These breaks can dovetail nicely with your sitting breaks. Think of them as simultaneous maintenance for body health and eye health. Software programs like Iris build in screen breaks (via pop-up reminder)s so you don't even need to think about watching the clock while you work.
6. Exercise your eyes.
Yes, just like you do with your abs or pecs, you can give your eyes a workout. Visual training is nothing new, either. Dr. William H. Bates created the Bates Method, a natural method for improving eyesight, more than 100 years ago, and it continues to be taught all over the world. Ben talked about the importance of training his eyes on this podcast. He likes a 10-week visual training program called Vision Gym that can change your vision with just a few minutes of work each day. Vision Gym comes complete with a full manual, instructional videos, eye charts, a drill list, and more. You can also Google “eye exercises” to find decent practices you can do at home, or even hire a vision coach (hit up Google again for “vision coaches”) if you want an entirely personalized program.
For many more pointers on reducing digital eye strain, check out Ben's article “Sunlight Makes You Skinny & Blue Light Makes You Fat: 11 Ways To Biohack Light To Optimize Your Body & Brain.”
7 Visual Health Superfoods (That You Can Probably Even Find At The Grocery Store)
Most of the foods that support visual health also have a host of other benefits, such as improving heart health, sharpening your cognition, and strengthening your immune system.
For example, both the eyes and the brain are composed of neural tissue. Therefore, ingredients that support neuroprotective functions in the retina—both antioxidant defenses and membrane health—are likely to also end up supporting neuroprotective functions in the brain. And by doing so, these ingredients may also support healthy neuronal structure and function and neuronal communication, which are key aspects of cognitive function.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology recently published a list of 36 foods that improve vision. The foods on the list are not only healthful choices for whole-body nutrition, they can be found at most grocery stores. Foods that you should incorporate into your diet to improve your visual health include the following…
1. Orange Vegetables
I think it's safe to say that the food most frequently associated with eye health is carrots. This isn't just an old wives' tale—carrots are in fact one of the best foods for supporting your visual system, as they're rich in beta-carotene, which the body utilizes to produce Vitamin A. Vitamin A improves the functioning of the conjunctiva membranes and cornea (the eye's outermost lens) and is important for the retina to convert light rays into visual images. Other orange fruits and vegetables, such as apricots, cantaloupe, and sweet potatoes, are also naturally high in Vitamin A and are good choices.
2. Citrus Fruits
Vitamin C has antioxidant and neuroprotective effects that benefit the visual system. According to the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies, Vitamin C can help slow down vision loss due to age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is an eye disease that can blur the center of your vision. Citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit, and lemons with high Vitamin C content should be consumed year-round as part of a diet that supports eye health.
Ginger, one of the most widely used spices in the world, is a bioenhancer (it enhances the bioavailability of carotenoids) with antioxidant benefits that support the healthy function of the retina and lens. Carotenoids are the pigments that give fruits and vegetables their vibrant red, orange, and yellow coloring. Carotenoids such as lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin are present in the macula and can absorb up to 90% of blue light. The absorption of this light can reduce the oxidative damage that occurs to this essential part of the eye.
4. Cold-Water Fish
Research has suggested that diets rich in Omega-3 fatty acids from cold-water fish may help reduce the risk of eye disease later in life, and because Omega-3 fatty acids cannot be synthesized in the body, they must be obtained from the diet. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the most complex form of Omega-3s, may help protect your vision as you age. Cold-water fish including salmon, tuna, sardines, halibut, and trout are excellent sources of Omega-3s. (For everything you need to know about fish and fish oil, check out Ben's article “A Deep “Dive” Into The Fascinating World Of Fish Oil, The Right Fat Ratios In Your Diet, Plant Vs. Animal Based Oils & The Exact Fish Oil Ben Greenfield Uses Every Day.” and his podcast “The Giant Fish Oil Episode: Everything You’ve Ever Wanted To Know About Omega 3 Fatty Acids, EPA, DHA, Dosing, Sourcing & Much More!”).
5. Leafy Green Vegetables
Kale, spinach, collards, and turnip greens contain lutein and zeaxanthin, two nutrients found in the healthy eye that are thought to lower your risk for age-related macular degeneration (AMD)—an eye disease that can blur your central vision—and cataracts. Cataracts form when protein builds up in the lens of your eye, preventing light from passing through clearly, resulting in cloudy vision. One large study showed that women who had diets high in lutein were 23 percent less likely to develop cataracts than women whose diets were low in this nutrient.
6. Goji Berry
Goji berry is a traditional Chinese medicine eye tonic used to nourish the eyes and promote healthy vision. Goji is rich in bioactive antioxidant compounds, including zeaxanthin—it’s considered one of the richest food sources of this macular pigment. Goji is also rich in polysaccharides, believed to be responsible for many of goji’s health benefits, including the support of vision and eye health. While goji berry may not be available at your local supermarket, you can find this eye health superfood online.
Saffron is known for being the world’s most expensive spice, but it is also loaded with healthy bioactive compounds. Saffron extracts have been clinically studied for vision, mostly for age-related vision issues. Saffron contains a variety of eye-healthy carotenoids—it is one of the only sources of a water-soluble carotenoid called crocin—and supports macular health and retinal responses to intense light, important for screen stress resistance. Saffron also supports visual acuity.
Leveraging Supplements As A Source Of Comprehensive Eye Health
Clearly, it's not difficult to find foods that provide powerful benefits to your visual system.
But while many of the foods mentioned above may already be staples in your diet, others may not, due to availability, taste preferences, or budget.
The good news is that supplementation is an effective and convenient way to ensure that you are getting optimal nutritional support to prevent and even reverse the deterioration of the visual system. Supplementation also has the benefit of fast results—digital eye strain can be reduced in intensity and frequency in a matter of days when you're receiving the right nutrients.
There are of course a near-limitless number of supplements out there for whatever condition you can think of, but there has been a lack of quality supplementation specifically formulated for visual support—until now. Neurohacker Collective designed Qualia Vision by studying the physiology of the entire visual system, and why and how modern eye stressors (with particular emphasis on digital screens) affect visual performance and health.
The nine ingredients selected for the Qualia Vision formula have particularly strong research backing their support to visual health (and digital screen stress in particular). In addition to ginger, saffron, and goji berry—which as outlined above, you can find in the grocery store but are probably the ingredients you are least likely to already be incorporating into your daily diet—the six ingredients below have proven research supporting their inclusion, with synergies between ingredients carefully factored in.
6 Additional Visual Health Ingredients In Qualia Vision
- Bilberry is a superfruit eye tonic from European herbal traditions rich in antioxidant polyphenols that support vision.
- Lutemax® 2020—a source of Lutein + Zeaxanthin + Meso-zeaxanthin—supplies the three antioxidant macular pigments used by the macula to filter blue light and protect the retina. Lutemax® 2020 supports visual function, resistance to digital eye strain, resistance to visual fatigue, and photostress recovery.
- AstaPure® Haematococcus pluvialis Microalgae Extract (3% Astaxanthin) is a natural source of the carotenoid astaxanthin. Similar to the macular carotenoids, astaxanthin protects the eye from light and other stressors. Astaxanthin is an antioxidant that supports visual acuity, resistance to digital eye strain/fatigue, visual reaction time, blood flow to the eyes, and defenses against blue light.
- Amla fruit is the eye rejuvenator from Ayurvedic medicine. Amla supports lens health and is believed to preserve eyesight, promote eye health, and relieve complaints related to digital eye strain and fatigue. Amla (Emblica officinalis) fruit extract also supports DNA repair and supports telomerase activity and telomere length, which are important properties for cell longevity.
- Taurine is the most abundant amino acid in the retina (as well as other parts of the eye like the lens and cornea). The majority of the taurine pool of the retina is in photoreceptors, where taurine acts as an antioxidant and is essential for their light-capturing function. Taurine supports resistance to visual fatigue. Taurine also supports healthy cerebral blood flow.
- Methylcobalamin is a coenzyme form of vitamin B12, a neuro-vitamin that is essential for healthy nerves. The eye has many important nerves whose function may be supported by methylcobalamin, particularly the optic nerve, which carries visual information to the brain. Methylcobalamin supports visual function when using devices with screens.
Now, it's important you understand that I don't necessarily advocate blanket supplementation. Like Ben, I believe that many of the most important health-improving practices are those that have been employed for thousands of years—there is no substitute for sunlight, water, and a good night's sleep. But also like Ben, I advocate for taking advantage of modern science, for, after all, modern life presents health challenges that were unheard of back in ancient times. The specific formulation of Qualia Vision was carefully designed to counteract the impact of your digital lifestyle, and when all that it takes is a pill a day to protect your eyes—and even reverse any damage you may have already done—there is no reason not to take every measure you can to promote your visual health.
After all, you won't be able to work productively or enjoy a game night with your family if you are suffering from blurry vision.
Focusing :) on your visual health is not a practice you want to start after it begins to noticeably decline. Proactive measures will go a long way in preventing age-related and screen-induced visual decline, and even reversing the damage that has already been done.
To review, Gregory Kelly, ND of Neurohacker Collective recommends the following practices for reducing digital eye strain:
- Use tools such as blue light blocking glasses and UV and blue light screen protectors.
- Limit (or eliminate) mindless screen time like scrolling social media.
- Counteract short-distance screen time (the worst for visual health) with activities that involve looking into the distance.
- Avoid using screens in a dark room.
- Replace LED lights with healthier alternatives such as incandescent bulbs.
- Take regular screen breaks.
- Give your eyes a workout by Googling “eye exercises” or with a program like Vision Gym.
And while I certainly do advocate for taking the measures outlined above, adding in a quality supplement is the quickest, most effective way that you can promote your own visual health.
I have relied on the formulas from Neurohacker C0llective for years because they take singular care to understand the specific effects of different ingredients and how they combine with each other to affect the mind, brain, and body. In fact, I have referred to their cognition-enhancing, focus-sharpening Qualia Mind supplement as the “God pill” or “magic pill.”
Qualia Vision is now part of my supplement routine because I am determined to do everything I can to keep these “eagle eyes” of mine in top condition. Like all Qualia formulas, Vision is gluten-free, non-GMO, and there's a 100-day money-back guarantee, so trying it out is really a no-risk proposition (and as Gregory said, the cool thing is that you should notice results quickly). You can also get a 15% discount on Qualia Vision with code QVBEN.
For your next trip to the grocery store, you may want to get the following visual health-supporting foods on your list: orange vegetables, citrus fruits, ginger, cold-water fish, leafy green vegetables, goji berry, and saffron—and they're also great choices for overall health.
Your visual health is subject to rapid decline thanks to both age and modern-day technology. By practicing good screen hygiene, working eye-strengthening foods into your daily diet, and supplementing intelligently, you can avoid and even reverse eye disease and dysfunction, significantly improving your quality of life.
What about you? How's your eyesight? Do you suffer from digital eye strain? And do you think much about your visual health? Leave your thoughts and questions below. I read them all, and the Neurohacker team or I will respond. Also, let me know if you try Qualia's Vision product, and how your results are or have been!