We all want to keep our eyes happy and healthy so that we can enjoy clear, crisp vision. While regular eye exams are a key component to good eye health, diet and exercise also play an important role.
The Science Behind Eye-Related Supplements
There is a growing body of evidence that select supplements and vitamins can help reduce your chances of developing eye conditions such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Two important studies, AREDS (Age-Related Eye Disease Study) and AREDS2, both of which were conducted by the National Eye Institute, found that there were several vitamins and supplements that were particularly effective for promoting eye health: Vitamin A, Vitamin B complex, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Lutein, Zeaxanthin, Zinc, and Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
Vitamins, Minerals & Supplements That May Help Improve Eye Health
Recent studies have shown that Vitamin A may decrease our risk of developing age-related macular degeneration. Vitamin A has been shown to help protect the surface of our eyes (our corneas) and can be an effective treatment for dry eyes. Vitamin A can be found in a variety of animal and plant based foods including beef, liver, milk, butter, carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, spinach, and cantaloupe. Vitamin A that is obtained from animal food sources is not water-soluble, so it can’t be easily excreted from the body if we accidentally take too much. Instead, it can build up in our body fat and become toxic, so it is important to speak to your doctor before you begin taking any supplements.
Zinc is important because it helps our body absorb vitamin A, and has been shown to help protect against macular degeneration and night blindness. Zinc can be naturally found in a variety of foods including eggs, tofu, black-eyed peas, wheat germ, oysters, and other seafood. Zinc can also be taken as a supplement, but you should not take more than 100mg per day without first consulting your doctor. Zinc is vital to our overall health when taken in moderation but high doses are associated with negative side effects including compromising the immune system.
Studies suggest that vitamin E may play an important role in slowing the progression of AMD among individuals who are already exhibiting early signs of this diseases. The AREDS found that individuals with early AMD had a 25% lower risk of developing advanced AMD when they took daily nutritional supplements that included Vitamin E. Based on this and other nutritional studies most eye care professionals recommend that patients take a daily multivitamin that includes 400 IU of vitamin E as part of their preventative eye care routine.
Another study found that women who ingested vitamin E, vitamin C, lutein, and zeaxanthin from food and supplements were less likely to develop cataracts. However, high levels of vitamin E can have adverse side effects including interfering with your blood’s ability to clot, so it is important to talk to your doctor before you begin taking any supplements or multivitamins that contain vitamin E.
Vitamin B Complex
Vitamin B Complex (which includes vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12 folic acid, biotin and choline) has been shown to help reduce both chronic inflammation and help prevent the homocysteine levels in our blood from becoming elevated. Both of these problems can contribute to vascular problems that negatively impact our retinas. Vitamin B complex has also been shown to help reduce the risk of developing AMD and may help treat uveitis, which is a common cause of blindness. One study found that individuals who did not get enough riboflavin (also known as vitamin B2) in their diets may not be able to properly process iron, which can cause night blindness.
Vitamin C plays an integral role in keeping our bones, skin, and blood vessels healthy, including the delicate capillaries in our retinas. Vitamin C can help reduce our risk of developing cataracts and has been shown to help slow the progression of AMD. This is why the American Optometric Association recommends ensuring that you get at least 500 mg per day of vitamin C to help prevent the formation of cataracts and slow the progression of AMD if you have it. While vitamin C can be taken as a supplement it is also found in a variety of foods including citrus fruits, raw spinach, cooked tomatoes, bananas, apples, and peaches.
Carotenoids, including lutein and zeaxanthin, are important for our eyes because they help protect our retinas from the damage caused by UV (ultraviolet) and HEV (high energy visible) light. Prolonged exposure to UV and HEV radiation can damage your retinas and increase your chances of developing AMD. A 2006 study found that healthy women with early AMD under the age of 75 that ate diets rich in lutein and zeaxanthin may have a lower risk of developing intermediate AMD.
Both lutein and zeaxanthin occur naturally in dark leafy greens including spinach, kale, green leaf lettuce, and romaine lettuce. These nutrients can also be found in vegetables such as broccoli, squash, bell peppers, carrots, and tomatoes, as well as eggs. Researchers recommend that you ingest between 6 mg and 10 mg lutein and zeaxanthin per day.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The AREDS study as well as several other studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids may help protect us against the development of AMD, and may also help reduce our chances of developing dry eye. Research also suggests that fatty acids may help our eyes drain intraocular fluid properly, which in turn decreases the risk of developing glaucoma and other high eye pressure related conditions. Omega-3 fatty acids are most commonly found in fish, including salmon, mackerel, white tuna, and sardines. They can also be found in non-fish foods such as flaxseeds, walnuts, and dark leafy green vegetables. However, our bodies have more trouble processing omega-3 fatty acids found in non-fish sources. These important nutrients can also be obtained using supplements such as cod liver oil, which comes in both liquid and capsule form.
Is a Diet with Supplements Necessary?
Depending on how healthy and varied your diet currently is you may not need to take any additional supplements. However, if you are concerned that your body is not getting the vitamins and minerals it needs you should speak to your doctor about adding supplements to your diet.
Supplements Are Not a Replacement for Regular Checkups
Supplements can help us ensure we are getting the minerals and nutrients we need to keep our eyes healthy, but they are not a replacement for regular eye exams. You should see your optometrist at least once per year. Though nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and supplements can help reduce your risk of developing eye diseases early detection of these conditions is still key and many serious eye diseases don’t begin to exhibit symptoms until they have progressed beyond the early stages.
Looking to Long-Term Eye Health
A healthy diet rich in vitamins and minerals is an integral part of any healthy lifestyle. Though many of the nutrients you need can be obtained from food it can be tricky to ensure that your body is getting enough of what it needs. Supplements can help ensure that your eyes are staying happy and healthy. For more information about supplements and eye health you should speak to your eye care professional.