We all have days when squinting into the sun, looking for a distant object that others can see but we can't, gives us the urge to fake it. "Oh, right, I see it now!" Whether you're searching for a red or green buoy out on the water or the white speck of a golf ball against the blue sky as it arcs off the tee, your vision tells you about your general health, says a doctor. But as innocent as this little "struggle" or eye strain can seem, difficulty seeing contrasts or driving at night could be a symptom of an underlying health condition called Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS) that could need medical attention.

Why does Chronic Inflammation Response Syndrom matter? Dr. Bill Koppin, Optometrist with Shades Optical in the greater Detroit area, says that this type of insidious chronic inflammation signals a large systemic health degradation, where your vascularity begins to tighten, your circulation gets clogged or stressed, and it could signal early signs of heart disease. So before it can lead to a heart attack or stroke, or any number of health complications related to hypertension, or more, get to an eye doctor. In cases of COVID-19, chronic inflammation has been linked to the most severe symptoms that lead to hospitalization and death.

Here's What Your Eye Health Tells You and What to Do About It, from a Doctor

Dr. Koppin: When you have inflammation, the first thing you lose is your ability to see contrasts and your vision gets worse at night.

This is an approach to holistic health that starts at examining what's going on within the eyes. The way to detect that inflammation is happening in the body is a visual contrast sensitivity test which tests one's ability to view contrasts. When your lack of ability to see red against blue or white against blue, and it gets to a certain level, we have a high degree of certainty that you are in the 90 percentile, which is alarming.

Inflammation is repair deficits. The traditional thinking is that inflammation is like a fire going on and it's got to be fought and repressed. In fact, inflammation is an opportunity for your body to repair, renew, and rehabilitate. People have to look at inflammation differently and understand what it is, and take a whole-body approach.

The Beet: What are causes of inflammation, other than poor diet or lifestyle choices?

Dr. Koppin: Coronavirus causes whole-body chronic inflammation. It's a biotoxin illness. But there are other issues that can trigger inflammation. One thing is that we've got to make sure you are not living in or around a house that has mold. Some people have a genetic sensitivity to it. But if you are living in mold this is never going to get better.

The Beet: What can you do about inflammation?

Dr. Koppin:  The important thing is the diagnosis. Then, while every patient is different, the common denominator is that lifestyle choices can make the difference: A Mediterranean style plant-based diet, of mostly fruits, and vegetables, and avoiding refined sugars, is the first step. I start by making sure they are eating organic whole foods, non-GMO, and most of all, avoiding processed foods, which can drive up inflammation.

The Beet: For inflammation, diet is the first, most important step to control it?

Dr. Koppin:  People need to think of food as medicine. People think of eating food for taste,  and if you only think of food for taste, you put your body in an unhealthy situation.

The Beet: What else can we do to be healthier?

Dr. Koppin: Go see your eye doctor. For eye health and overall lower inflammation, and taking better care of yourself, the entry point is eating healthy food. But another thing is to get your wellness eye exam.

We measure two carotenoids: Lutein and Zeaxanthin. The body is uptaking those two carotenoids [from the food you eat], and they show up in the eyes.

These carotenoids help protect your eyes by blocking blue light or ultraviolet light, which is vital now, since we spend our workdays staring at screens for hours at a time, is more important than ever to avoid eye strain. These carotenoids serve in protecting the macula, which is the center of the retina. From an eye doctor's standpoint, this is an early warning sign.

We test your macula density and .38 is the statistical average. but average does not give us wellness. I want you to be a .6 and higher so you can be at optimal wellness.

These pigments give you improved night vision, improved glare recovery... meaning an ambulance drives by and those two carotenoids help you recover from glare quickly. And the third is contrast. Seeing a golf ball against a blue sky.

The Beet: So if you can't see a golf ball against the sky what are you supposed to do?

Dr. Koppin: If you can't see a golf ball against a blue sky you need to up your intake of fruits and vegetables.  Just how much nutrition affects your vision is very well documented. But also the fact that your vision tells you a lot about nutrition.

So if you can't see that golf ball you have bigger problems than losing a golf ball. You need to order a salad at the club for lunch!

The Beet: We've come a long way since the old days when an eye exam was just drops.

Dr. Koppin: The eyes are the most vascular part of the body per square millimeter. And we can see into your vascularity without opening you up. The eyes predict all sorts of problems from high cholesterol and diabetes, and the eyes are the first place to see these living blood vessels in action, and now we have the tools to measure all this stuff.

The Beet: So Getting Carotenoids Matters for Eye Health?

Dr. Koppin: Yes. This is very well documented. Lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin block blue light from reaching the underlying structures in the retina, which in turn reduces the risk of light-induced damage that could lead to macular degeneration.

Lutein is found spinach and kale -- leafy greens.

Zeoathanthis is in red-orange and yellow vegetables.

Dr. Koppin: I have a smoothie every day... with two servings of kale and spinach, maybe some avocado and berries as well as almond milk, almond butter. I mix it up but that's my typical smoothie to start the day.

The Beet: So what's the bottom line about what your eyes tell you about your health?

Dr. Koppini: If you are seeing less contrast or not seeing well at night, then go see your doctor. There is not an easy at-home test. everyone does not see as well at night but if you're thinking, "Wow this is not as good as I remember!" Then that is a reason to go to your doctor. We're the easy entry point. Optometry is easy to access. You keep your clothes on.

Have an easy conversation about nutrition: Have you considered this? Food as medicine? Eating five to seven servings of fruit and vegetables a day? A serving is a fist of food. This is what it takes to get into the wellness zone and this is what it takes to move the needle.

These kinds of conversations are life-changing. I had a patient who was a private pilot and his score was low and he comes back and he had lost 20 pounds and more importantly, his A1C was regulated ... He no longer was diagnosed as diabetic. And he could keep his pilot's license. You can not have your private pilot's license and be diabetic. So he was able to keep his license.

Plant-based sources of carotenoids, or Vitamin A

  • Sweet potato, baked in skin
  • Spinach, frozen, boiled,
  • Carrots, raw
  • Cantaloupe,
  • Peppers
  • Mangos
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Apricots
  • Broccoli
  • Tomato juice
  • Baked beans
  • Summer squash
  • Pistachios