We’re bombarded every day with information about keeping in good health – exercise more, drink milk with this protein, wear sunscreen of this SPF level plus a hat, eat more of this and less of that. Like healthy skin and healthy joints, when it comes to healthy eyes and vision, it’s true that the way you treat your body can have an impact on your overall eye health.
Eye health is important to everyone across all aspects of life, be it your work or play. There is a myriad of conditions that can impact eye health, such as glaucoma, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration. Even dry eye is becoming increasingly recognised as a disease with significant impacts on quality of life.
Research has shown that certain vitamins for eye health can be beneficial for maintaining comfortable eyes and good vision, and these can easily be obtained through a healthy diet.
Vitamins for Eye Health
Vitamin A and Beta Carotene
Vitamin A is an essential component of the chemical compounds contained in our rod photoreceptors of the retina. Rod photoreceptors are used for vision in dim lighting, which is why vitamin A deficiency often first presents as difficulties with night-vision. As part of supporting the health of the retina, beta carotene, a plant-derived precursor that converts to vitamin A within the body, was shown to reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration when taken alongside several other specific vitamins and minerals. There is also evidence that eye health further benefits from vitamin A intake by way of supporting the health of the cornea and warding off the dry eye, as well as reducing the risk of cataract through antioxidant action.
This one, in association with carrots, is probably the first that comes to mind when someone thinks of vitamins for eye health. Although eating bunches of carrots every day isn’t going to give you superhuman vision, vitamin C’s powerful antioxidant properties can do a lot to support your overall eye health.
Similar to vitamin A, a healthy intake of vitamin C has been shown to reduce the risk of cataract development, though it is important to note that no vitamins or medications can prevent cataracts altogether as they are considered a normal part of ageing. Also like beta carotene, a large study investigating nutritional supplementation for age-related macular degeneration found that the inclusion of vitamin C in what is now known as the AREDS2 formulation was beneficial for reducing the risk of macular degeneration.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin
Although less well-known by the general public, these two carotenoids have come to the fore during research into eye health, particularly the health of the macula, which detects your central vision. The original AREDS clinical trials for macular degeneration noted that while beta carotene was beneficial for the macula, it was associated with an increased risk of lung cancer in former and current smokers. This resulted in the AREDS2 formulation replacing beta carotene with lutein and zeaxanthin, two other plant-based antioxidants. These compounds support eye health by helping to protect retinal cells from oxidative damage.
Yet another potent antioxidant, vitamin E supports your eye health by protecting the cells of your eyes from oxidative stress. It is included in the AREDS2 formulation for age-related macular degeneration alongside vitamins A and C, lutein and zeaxanthin. There is some evidence that a high intake of vitamin E may also be protective of eye health by reducing the risk of developing a cataract, though not all studies support this idea.
Although not technically a vitamin, omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in several aspects of eye health and so are still worth a mention. The Western diet typically consists of a poor ratio of anti-inflammatory omega-3 to pro-inflammatory omega-6 essential fatty acids, which leads to various problems including cardiovascular disease.
People who are able to attain a healthy intake of omega-3 are found have improved symptoms of dry eye disease as well as a reduced risk of macular degeneration, both eye conditions with underlying inflammatory components. In addition to these benefits, patients with diabetes who increase their dietary intake of omega-3 are found to have a lower risk of developing a potentially blinding eye complication known as diabetic retinopathy.
A balanced diet should get you adequate supplies of all these nutrients to support healthy eyes but supplements are available if this is not possible. If you’re concerned about your specific risk factors for eye disease, speak to your optometrist or ophthalmologist about additional steps you can take to protect your vision.
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