Your eyes are unique organs of your body and have their own nutritional needs to function correctly. Deficiency of some nutrients, in particular, certain vitamins can cause conditions like cataract, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and glaucoma.
Though many factors can cause these conditions, nutrition has a significant effect on your eye health. Antioxidants in foods can help protect your eyes and the rest of your body from oxidative damage and it also helps reduce inflammation.
Here are the ten most essential vitamins and nutrients necessary for your eye health, along with their dietary sources. Make sure to add them regularly to your diet to keep your vision healthy.
1. Vitamin A
Vitamin A is a group of fat-soluble nutrients that plays a vital role in supporting your immune function, growth and development, and healthy vision. It is essential for eye health as it forms an integral part of the protein rhodopsin, that helps in your low-light vision.
Vitamin A helps in maintaining the outer surface of the eye or cornea. Without vitamin A your eyes can not produce enough moisture to keep them lubricated. Vitamin A eye drops are used for treating dry eyes. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, lack of vitamin A in your body can lead to night blindness or xerophthalmia.Xerophthalmia is a condition caused by vitamin A deficiency that begins with drying out of your tear ducts and eyes. This leads to the softening of your cornea and permanent blindness.
Vitamin A also protects your eyes from age-related issues like cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). A study conducted in 2014 revealed that vitamin A reduces the risk of cataract. Another study that evaluated the relationship between dietary intake of vitamin A and AMD resulted that vitamin A decreases the risk of AMD.
Beta carotene is the precursor of vitamin A. It is present in various colorful fruits and vegetables. When your body gets beta carotene from the diet, it gets converted to vitamin A. Including orange, red, and green vegetables like spinach, broccoli, carrot, sweet potato and fruits like mango, papaya, and apricots in your diet, is a great way to meet your vitamin A requirements.
Summary: Vitamin A helps to maintain the overall health of your eye, maintains proper lubrication of your cornea, and forms rhodopsin, which helps in dark vision. It also protects your eyes from cataracts, xerophthalmia, and AMD.
2. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that protects your body from oxidative stress caused by free radicals. These free radicals can damage the protein and cells of your eyes, leading to cataract and many eyes related problems.
A 2014 study, which evaluated the benefits of vitamin E, has revealed that it helps in the prevention of cataracts. If your eyesight is deteriorating, it can be a sign of age-related macular degeneration. A seven-year-long, age-related eye disease study (AERDS) was conducted on 3,640 people who consumed 400 IU of vitamin E and other nutrient supplements. The results showed that there was a notable reduction in the advancing vision loss due to age-related macular degeneration. (AMD).
Another study suggested that high Vitamin E intake through dietary supplements help to prevent age-related cataract. Vitamin E is an essential vitamin that needs to be supplied through diet. Consuming a diet with adequate vitamin E is an effective way of supporting your eye health. Vitamin E rich foods include sunflower seeds, nuts, green leafy vegetables, avocado, and salmon. During deficiency, you can also take vitamin E supplements to meet your daily requirements.
Summary: Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects your eyes from free radical damage. Vitamin E rich food can help you to prevent cataract and vision loss associated with AMD.
3. Vitamin C
Vitamin C, also known as L-ascorbic acid, is a vital vitamin of your body. As your body cannot manufacture vitamin C on its own, you need to supply the daily dose of vitamin C through your diet. Vitamin C is required for many vital functions of your body, including maintaining your eye health. It is a water-soluble vitamin that is present naturally in many fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C, with its antioxidant property, can protect your eyes from damaging effects of free radical.
A clinical research study, Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), has revealed that Vitamin C and other nutrient supplements can delay the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and loss of vision.
Vitamin C is essential for making collagen, a protein that gives structure to your eyes. Another recent study conducted by Oregon Health & Science University has revealed that nerve cells of the eye require Vitamin C to function properly.
Cataract, a condition that causes clouding of eye and impaired vision, is typically seen in older adults. A cross-sectional analytic study conducted in 2011 explains that vitamin C is inversely associated with cataract, which means those who had vitamin C deficiency had an increased risk of cataract.
Vitamin C promotes the health of the blood vessels throughout your body, including the delicate capillaries of your retina. Choose foods that contain a high amount of vitamin c such as citrus fruits, kiwi, papaya, berries, bell pepper, and kale, to ensure you meet your daily requirements.
Summary: Vitamin C is essential for making collagen, a protein that gives structure to your eyes. Vitamin C and other nutrient supplements can delay the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and loss of vision.
4. Vitamin B6, B9, and B12
B vitamins are essential for healthy living and to reduce age-related health risks. A randomized trial study of 2009 suggests that daily supplementation of vitamin B6, B9, and B12 reduces the risk of AMD, a degenerative disease that affects eyes.
Vitamin B6, B9, and B12 help to lower the levels of the protein homocysteine. Homocysteine is associated with inflammatory problems affecting the retina. By reducing homocysteine, B vitamins help to reduce the risk of age-related muscular degeneration.
A study conducted in 2017 showed that vitamin B12 deficiency is related to dry eye disease and neuropathic ocular pain. To treat these conditions along with topical treatment, vitamin B12 supplements are advised. Optic neuropathy is another rare complication of vitamin B12 deficiency.
Enrich your diet with foods that can boost your B vitamin levels such as legumes, citrus fruits, nuts, bananas, leafy vegetables, meat, and fish.
Summary: Vitamin B6, B9, and B12 can help to reduce the risk of AMD by reducing homocysteine level. It also protects your eyes from cataracts and glaucoma.
Another B vitamin, riboflavin, or vitamin B2 is needed for maintaining many tissues of your body. It has antioxidant properties and plays many important roles like, maintaining healthy blood cells, improving energy levels, supporting healthy metabolism, preventing free radical damage, preserving skin and eye health, and many more.
Glutathione present in your eyes is the most potent antioxidant that prevents eye damage from oxidative stress and any inflammation. According to research, your body needs riboflavin to produce glutathione.
A study conducted in the year 2000 to investigate the relationship between diet and cataract and has revealed that higher intake of protein, B vitamin riboflavin, vitamin A, and thiamin, are associated with reduced incidence of nuclear cataract.
A scientific study has revealed that prolonged riboflavin deficiency can cause cataract in older individuals. Another study was conducted to evaluate the relation between diet and cataract in middle-age and older adults. This study found that there was a 30-50% decreased risk of cataract in participants with adequate riboflavin intake per day.
The normal recommended dose of riboflavin ranges from 1.1 to 1.3 mg per day. Foods containing high riboflavin are milk, yogurt, oats, nuts, eggs, fortified cereals, and meat. Adequate riboflavin in your diet can delay the development of cataracts in old age.
Summary: Riboflavin is a powerful antioxidant that prevents free radical damage and supports your eye health. Prolonged riboflavin deficiency can lead to cataracts.
Niacin or vitamin B3 is also called nicotinic acid and is an essential nutrient. It is highly beneficial for overall health as it converts your food into energy. It also acts as an effective antioxidant.
A nationwide survey conducted in 2018 by South Korea has shown that there is a significant relationship between reduced intake of niacin or vitamin B3 and glaucoma. Glaucoma is a condition in which fluid build within eyes puts pressure on the optic nerve. Over time, this leads to damage to the nerve and vision loss.
However, this supplementation should be used with caution. Excessive consumption of niacin can lead to some serious side effects. Studies have shown that increased consumption of niacin can cause macular damage, blurred vision, and inflammation of the cornea. However, there are no definitive studies to show that a higher intake of niacin rich food can cause any adverse effects.
Niacin is an essential nutrient that needs to be supplied through diet. Foods that contain niacin are leafy vegetables, peanuts, legumes, mushrooms, beef, poultry, and fish.
Summary: Niacin or vitamin B3 is an essential nutrient that prevents the occurrence of glaucoma. Niacin supplements should be taken with caution as high doses can cause harmful side effects.
7. Lutein and Zeaxanthin
Lutein and zeaxanthin are important carotenoids that offer various health benefits and are best known for supporting eye health. When present in high concentrations, they give yellow to red pigment to vegetables and fruits.
Lutein and zeaxanthin together form the macular pigment of your retina, which helps to filter the harmful blue light, thus protecting your eyes from potential damage. Various studies suggest that Lutein and zeaxanthin supplementation prevent cataract and AMD and can also improve the visual ability of AMD patients.
A long term placebo-controlled pilot study investigated the effects of lutein on cataract patients. The study results revealed that lutein supplementation significantly improved the visual performance of people suffering from cataracts.
Generally, people don’t consume foods rich with these carotenoids leading to their deficiency and vision problems. Presently, there is no recommended daily dose for these carotenoids. But, according to experts, 10 to 20 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin per day for six months can be taken to improve your vision.
Best natural sources of lutein and zeaxanthin are green or yellow vegetables such as kale, spinach, collard greens, broccoli, carrots, and mustard greens. They are safe to eat, and increased consumption of these carotenoids does not cause any toxic side effects.
Summary: Lutein and zeaxanthin are important carotenoids that carry many health benefits for your eyes. They protect your eyes from harmful blue light, prevent cataracts, and slows down the progression of AMD.
Thiamin or vitamin B1 is essential for your healthy body functions. It helps your body cells to convert food into energy. An observational study has shown that thiamin reduces the risk of cataract. This study indicated that thiamin, protein, vitamin A and riboflavin all are effective against cataract.
Thiamin deficiency sometimes leads to visual loss due to optic neuropathy. Thiamin deficiency can also lead to retinal hemorrhage and visual impairment. It was seen that in these conditions, thiamin therapy helped the patients to recover normal vision.
Researchers from the University of Texas have discovered that a form of thiamine or vitamin B1 can be used as an efficient treatment for blindness. It is also used as a supplement to avoid diabetic complications.
Foods enriched in thiamine are whole grains, peas, rice, nuts, meat, and fish. Thiamine is also added by the manufacturer in pasta, bread, cereals, and other baked products. 1.1 to 1.2 mg is the recommended daily allowance of thiamine.
Summary: Thiamine reduces the risk of cataracts and is effectively used in its treatment. Thiamine deficiency can cause many complications, such as retinal hemorrhage and blindness.
9. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients required for normal functioning of muscles, nerves, and organs of your body. They also help to regulate biological functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, immune system, reproductive system, nervous system and also play a major role in eye health.
The cell membrane of the retina has a high concentration of a particular type of omega-3, DHA, which supports the fluidity of photoreceptor membranes, retinal integrity, and vision. With an anti-inflammatory property, it helps to prevent diabetic retinopathy.
A systematic review of high dietary intake of fish oil as in the Mediterranean diet resulted in reduced risk of diabetic retinopathy. Omega-3 fatty acids play a role in tear production and help in treating dry eye disease.
Another review study on omega-3 fatty acids suggests that it protects eyes from macular degeneration and dry eye disease. It further revealed that omega-3 fatty acids help in proper drainage of intraocular fluid, leading to decreased high eye pressure and glaucoma.
Increasing the dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the risk of dry eyes. The best food sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fish, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and soy.
Summary: omega-3 fatty acids with its anti-inflammatory property helps to prevent diabetic retinopathy. It also helps in tear production and prevents dry eyes.
Zinc is an essential nutrient that supports your health, maintains the immune system, and helps to balance your hormones. When it comes to eye health, it maintains the health of the retina, cell membrane, and eye structure.
Zinc helps to transport vitamin A from your liver to retina, to produce melanin, a protective pigment of your eye. In fact, studies have proven that there’s a link between zinc deficiency and poor night vision. The study has revealed that zinc supplementation improved the eyes ability for night adaptation.
A study conducted by the American Optometric Association has shown that zinc supplements can interfere with progressing AMD. By taking 40 to 80mg zinc per day progression of AMD was reduced by 25%.
Zinc containing foods that can help you meet the daily requirements are nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, eggs, and meat.
Are Carrots Good for Your Eyes?
Generally, it is believed that carrots are good for the eyes, and it helps to maintain healthy vision. Carrots contain an adequate amount of beta carotene and lutein, which have antioxidant properties that prevent any damage caused by free radicals.
Beta carotene gives yellow or orange pigment to fruits and vegetables. Carrots are rich in this beta carotene, which then gets converted to vitamin A. The deficiency of vitamin A causes night blindness. Yellow carrots also contain lutein, which reduces the risk of AMD and loss of vision.
Though the antioxidants present in carrots help to improve vision, they aren’t the only vegetable that contains these antioxidants. Many green leafy vegetables like spinach and collard greens contain lutein and also zeaxanthin, which protect your eyes by filtering harmful rays of visible light that can damage your retina. Some positive habits can also help you to boost your eye health.
Summary: Carrots are good for healthy vision as they contain beta carotene and lutein. Beta carotene gets converted into vitamin A, and with its antioxidant property, prevents radical damage to your eyes. Lutein protects your eyes from AMD, a condition that can lead to vision loss.
Vitamin A: Deficiency and Toxicity
Vitamin A benefits your health by protecting you from oxidative stress, boosting your immune system, and preventing certain diseases. Vitamin A deficiency is a rarely seen condition, but it leads to severe health complications. It can impair your immunity, cause skin rashes, and certain eye defects. American Academy of Ophthalmology has stated that vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children worldwide. Severe vitamin A deficiency can cause death in patients suffering from infections like measles and diarrhea.
Hypervitaminosis A or vitamin A toxicity also has many adverse effects on your health. The recommended daily dose for vitamin A is 700 mcg per day for women and 900 mcg per day for men, which can be met easily with a vitamin A-rich diet.
Common side effects of chronic vitamin A toxicity are disturbed vision, sunlight sensitivity, nausea, vomiting, headache, dry, itchy skin, and jaundice. To avoid such issues, consult your doctor before taking vitamin A supplements.
Summary: Vitamin A toxicity can cause disturbed vision, liver damage, and jaundice. Unless diagnosed with vitamin A deficiency, it is not advisable to take vitamin A supplements.
9 Tips to Boost Your Eye Health
Other than enriching your diet with nutritious food, there are also some healthy habits that can improve your eye health and vision.
- Excessive exposure to UV rays can damage your eyes, leading to cataract, macular degeneration, and vision loss.
- Use sun protection or wear sunglasses when you go outside to protect your eyes from UVA and UVB rays.
- Extended screen time can have similar effects. At night use the blue light filter of your phone to reduce strain on your eyes and retinal damage.
- Give regular breaks to your eyes from the screen.
- Smoking, in the long term, carries the risk of vision loss. It has a strong association with macular degeneration, dry eyes, and cataract. Stop smoking to avoid these complications.
- Eating a healthy diet is essential for your eye health. As mentioned above, there are several vitamins and nutrients that are needed for maintaining your vision.
- Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables for your eye health as well as overall health.
- When you go for your routine health check-up, make sure to get your eyes tested. Meet eye care professionals as a preventive measure. An ophthalmologist can detect early signs of eye diseases, and early treatment can avoid complications.
- Be aware of the warning signs such as changes in visual clarity, decreased peripheral vision, or seeing flashes in the field of vision. During these signs consult your doctor immediately.
Summary: Eating a healthy diet, wearing eye protection, not smoking, controlling your screen time, and regular evaluation from an eye doctor are some of the good habits to maintain your eye health.
The Final Note
There are various research studies that confirm the importance of dietary vitamins and nutrients in helping prevent the progression of eye diseases. If you have been diagnosed with a deficiency that may affect your eye health, or if you are already suffering from eye-related health issues, vitamin supplements can help to overcome the associated symptoms.
Along with eye health supplements that have multiple nutrients that support eye health, make sure to follow a nutritious meal plan. Eating a healthy diet that includes a lot of vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins is enough to get the required nutrition for your eyes and your body.