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Why you must feed and exercise your eyes and keep them healthy

This chapter heading was not intended to send you pell-mell to the optician’s for a pair of glasses. The purpose of this chapter is to make more people conscious of the fact that eyes are part of the body; not mere “windows” cut in the skull so the brain can see.

Therefore, perching a pair of glasses astride the nose is not going to help the physical defects of the eye itself.

All that glass lenses can possibly do is to provide a crutch for a weakened organ. Have you ever heard of anyone strengthening his eyes, by wearing eyeglasses, to the point where he was able after a while to discard them completely? No, and the chances are you never will, since eyeglasses tend to “fix” a muscular weakness of the eyes rather than help correct or strengthen it.

While I do not decry the use of eyeglasses by those who feel they must wear them, I do urge these persons to do more for their ailing eyes than the mere wearing of glasses.

Eyes are as much an organ of the body as the brain, the kidneys, the heart or the stomach. Eyes can become fatigued and ill; they can starve for want of proper food elements; they can

react disastrously to the stimulus of wrong emotions; they can suffer muscular atrophy; they can become diseased; they can die.

But, instead of trying to cure the ailing eye, feed the starved eye, calm the “nervous” eye or exercise the eye with lax muscles, what do we do?

We expect a purely external mechanical aid like eyeglasses to do for our eyes what can be accomplished only within the body itself. We delay or neglect proper eye treatment until these organs of sight become degenerating members of an ill cared-for body.

No eyeglass lens is any more efficient than the eye behind it.

“Telescopes and microscopes are cunning contrivances, but they cannot see of themselves,” wrote a nineteenth-century author. He might well have added, “and neither can nose glasses or monocles see of themselves.”

All too often, eyeglasses are prescribed and fitted by professional men whose training is solely that of adjusting a strong enough lens so the eyes can read certain letters on a standardized chart at a specified distance. How or why those eyes became sick enough to need glasses is no concern of theirs.

And yet failing vision is frequently the most important, if not the only, early symptom in such serious diseases as diabetes, Blight’s disease, ulcers, tuberculosis, multiple sclerosis and heart disease.

An early visit to a reputable physician or to a clinic for a general physical check-up, instead of a visit to the “eyeglasses man,” would have saved thousands of lives, as well as untold expense, grief and suffering.

I cannot emphasize too strongly that new eyeglasses, or a change in those already worn, is the last consideration when the sight grows noticeably dimmer, or when the eyes feel weak and painful.

Eyes are affected by poor diet, harmful drugs, violent emotions and disease.

The sightless thousands upon thousands of India’s people offer tragic case histories in proof of the vital need for a balanced diet to assure maximum eye health.

Because of their religious beliefs, the Hindus live almost entirely on grains and vegetables when there is hardly enough even of this poorly balanced diet for the hungry millions in a land beset by famine.

Meat and fish in any form even the medicinal cod liver oil are strictly taboo. This means that certain amino acids (protein) vital to eye health are completely lacking from their diet.

In the jungle town of Khandwa in Central India there live some 35,000 persons. One day in 1947 two American eye specialists from Chicago arrived at a small Catholic mission in this town.

As soon as word went out that these two foreign doctors would treat eye diseases, a staggering number of patients began

streaming into the small dispensary, some coming from as far away as Bombay and Madras. The first morning, the doctors performed 15 eye operations.

In three months they had examined 8,000 patients and performed 2,000 eye operations. By far the greater number of these operations were for cataract, with glaucoma next.

The surprising thing about their cataract patients was that so many of them were young. We have come to associate cataract mostly with age. But the faulty, protein-deficient diet of the Hindus makes cataract a thousand times more prevalent among their young people than it is among older age groups in Western nations.

Harmful drugs cause much damage to the eyes in a condition known as optic atrophy degenerating and graying of the optic disc. When failure of the vision is sudden, it may come on as the direct result of such drugs as quinine or methyl alcohol.

And when the dimming sight is more gradual, the drugs at fault maybe alcohol and tobacco, or a combination of both, as a result of excessive drinking and smoking. Or impaired sight may be caused by the arsenic contained in certain chemicals.

So closely allied is the brain with the eyes that blindness due to worry is not rare.

This type of blindness is possible because the mechanical function of seeing is not strictly a physical process. Instead, vision is also a psychological experience.

All that the retina of the eyes does is to receive the image, which is relayed to the brain by means of nerves. But the actual recognition of that image takes place in the part of the brain where “optical memories” are stored.

Thus if anything happens to weaken or destroy the nerves that relay the image from the eye to the brain cells where identification of the image takes place, then the eye cannot “see,” regardless of whether or not the retina and optic disc are in good physical condition.

Intense emotions or years of worry can so agitate the “relaying” nerves that they break down partially or wholly.

I was not exaggerating when I implied in this chapter heading that “eyestrain can shorten your life.” Medical science has proved that when you strain your eyes, you shorten your life.

Although the delicate relationship that exists between the general health of the body and the mental fatigue caused by eyestrain has not been established in detail, it is known that nervous and muscular tension brought on by eyestrain can cause a physical breakdown.