Most of us prefer a high-calorie diet in place of fruits, vegetables, and nutrient-rich foods. This affects the normal functioning of the body, eyes included. A nutrient-filled supplement will help in filling the gap and provide the necessary nourishment of vitamins and minerals that the body needs.
Supplementation for eye health provides nutrients that benefit vision. It is not a substitute for a well-balanced diet but makes up for the lack of it. However, supplementation cannot treat any advanced stage of an eye disorder or a complete lack of nutrients due to poor food choices.
It is crucial that eye health is not neglected especially as we grow old. A periodic check-up will help arrest any eye disorder becoming a disability. Nutrition for eyes is as important as for the rest of the body. But the problem is that many people have no idea what to include in their diets to improve and support their eye health.
How important is our diet for eye health? Does vision get affected as we age? Are ‘carrots’ really good for the eyes? What should I eat and how much? There are so many questions that they may or may not have considered. But knowing these answers can help you make knowledge-based choices to eat the right food and embark on the lifestyle changes needed for a healthier and happier life.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Basic Components of A Healthy Eye Diet
Every five years the Health and Human Services body along with the US Drug Administration government organization published the ‘Dietary Guidelines for Americans’. It is a go-to source for nutritional advice.
At present, the 2015 to 2020 guideline is being followed. These guidelines reflect the ongoing nutritional science and aids medical professionals and policymakers guide people in making healthy food choices.
- The emphasis is on consuming whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products apart from eggs, nuts lean meats, fish and poultry. The food should be low in salt, cholesterol, trans and saturated fats.
- Vegetables supply essential nutrients for good eye health. Carrots, kale, spinach, collard greens, sweet potatoes, butter, swiss chard, Brussel sprouts, and zucchini are some of them.
- Apricot, papaya, avocado, blueberry, and mango are some fruits that promote the health of the eyes.
It’s important to follow a well-balanced diet that includes all of the above categories. Incorporate a variety of fruits and vegetables as these have different sets of nutrients and in varying quantities.
Lutein, an important nutrient for eye health, is found in foods such as mangoes, papayas, spinach, cabbage, kale, and green beans. Found abundantly in leafy green vegetables, lutein protects your eyes from light-induced retina damage.
Summary: It is the combination of foods you eat, such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy, etc., that will provide you with the complete nutrition you need for not just eye health, but for your complete body.
Now let’s take a closer look at which nutrients specifically support eye health.
11 Nutrients that Support Eye Vision
A daily multivitamin supplement may help in reducing certain causative factors like inflammation and oxidative changes linked to eye disorders and age-related eye issues.
Eye health supplements commonly known as eye-vitamins are formulated to specifically support eye-health. These supplements provide the following much-needed vitamins and minerals that may be insufficient in the normal diet.
1. Bioflavonoids: Bioflavonoids are substances found in plants and fruits that support the absorption of vitamin C and give color to fruits and vegetables. Bioflavonoids contain antioxidants. They also aid in treating inflammatory conditions.
2. Carotenoids: Carotenoids are pigments that protect the body including the eyes from free radicals and unstable atoms that interact to damage healthy tissues. Carotenoids bring about the green, red and orange color to plants. Lutein and zeaxanthin may reduce the risk of the most common eye diseases which are cataracts and macular degeneration.
3. Phytochemicals: Phytochemicals occur naturally in plants and are known to protect the body (eyes included) from the attack of free radicals. Studies have indicated that it may help to reduce the risk of cancer.
4. Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids may help in treating dry eyes. Trials conducted on rodents have shown that an application of omega-3 fatty acids led to a significant reduction of dry eye symptoms and inflammation in dry eyes.
5. Vitamin A: Vitamin A is vital for immunity, night vision and healing of wounds. Beta-carotene though associated with certain forms of cancer for smokers can still be consumed from natural food sources as it does not seem to add to the risk of those cancers.
6. Vitamin B complex: Vitamin B complex along with folic acid, biotin and choline may restrict the high production of homocysteine in the blood that has been linked to vascular infections of the retina. Vitamin B may also aid in the treatment of uveitis, an inflammation of the uvea area of the eye that consists of the iris, ciliary body, and the choroid. Uveitis can cause blindness.
7. Vitamin C: Vitamin C has been connected with the reduction in the risk of cataract conditions of the eye.
8. Vitamin D: Vitamin D is linked to the protection of the eye against macular degeneration. Vitamin D deficiency happens mainly in the winter season and during cold climatic conditions.
9. Vitamin E: Vitamin E had been used during the AREDS and AREDS2 studies conducted by the Eye Institute and is also known to help prevent cataract disease of the eye.
Summary: Other than vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals also support eye health with antioxidant properties relieve oxidative stress in the eyes. Carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin also have antioxidant properties and have been found to reduce the risk of eye diseases such as macular degeneration and cataracts.
AREDS: Scientific Studies on Nutrition in Eye-Health
Loss of vision affects millions of people in the United States. The percentage of those affected is higher among people over 50 years of age. The National Institute of Health, located in Bethesda, USA conducted studies associated with the age of a person. The studies were grouped under AREDS and AREDS2. It resulted in the recommendation of nutritional supplements that underwent certain alterations to tackle vision deterioration.
The full form of AREDS is Age-Related-Eye Diseases. The studies were on two eye conditions affecting a large number of people in America.
- Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD).
A central clear vision is absent in Age-Related Macular Degeneration. The macula part of the retina gets affected in this eye-disorder and causes vision loss. A cataract, on the other hand, is a cloudy layer that appears on the lens reducing vision. It may occur in one or both eyes.
The AREDS was conducted by the National Eye Institute of the federal government. The objective of the studies was to learn more about the history and risk factors of this degeneration and analyze the results with a high dosage of vitamin supplementation along with beta-carotene and zinc.
All of the volunteers were above the age of 50 and up to a maximum age of 80 years. Approximately 3,600 people undertook this experimentation. Many of them were already diagnosed with AMD when this study was initiated. The supplementation included 250grams of vitamin C, 400 IU of vitamin E, 2milligrams of copper and 80 milligrams of zinc. Supplementation helps in bridging the nutritional gap from a less than a wholesome diet.
The primary completion of the study was in 2001 which recorded the observation that the supplements decreased the risk of AMD by about 25% to an advanced stage of the disease. It also noted that a 19% reduction occurred in the risk of losing vision among those with an advanced stage of AMD. This was for one eye and not for both eyes. The supplements had no vision advantage for those who did not have any symptoms of AMD. The study showed no benefits to a cataract eye condition.
The formulation used in AREDS 1 was:
- 500 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C
- 400 international units of vitamin E
- 15 mg beta-carotene
- 80 mg zinc as zinc oxide
- 2 mg copper as cupric oxide
Summary: The first AREDS trial recorded that 5 years of supplementation using zinc, copper and high doses of antioxidants such as vitamin E, vitamin C and beta carotene lowered the risks of disease progress in individuals with already-existing moderate to advanced age-related macular degeneration.
The AREDS2 was published in June 2006. The study applied certain alterations to the formulation of the supplement on the progress of both the diseases. They tested various changes to the original AREDS formulation.
- The objective of this study was to determine whether the addition of omega -3 fatty acids and antioxidant plant pigments like lutein and zeaxanthin, to the original AREDS formula made it more effective.
- They were also looking for a safe and effective alternative to the beta-carotene used in the AREDS formula.
The beta- carotene supplements were connected to lung cancer increased risk among those who indulged in smoking. In the AREDS2 study published in May 2013, it was noted that those who took 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin were at least 25% less prone to develop advanced AMD compared to those volunteers who did not consume them. The last update on this study was posted on May 5, 2015.
The AREDS2 formulation has replaced beta-carotene with lutein and zeaxanthin
- 500 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C
- 400 international units of vitamin E
- 80 mg zinc as zinc oxide
- 2 mg copper as cupric oxide
- 10 mg lutein
- 2 mg zeaxanthin
Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation was not found to have much effect on reducing risks of eye disorders such as AMD and cataract, so it was not included in the new formula. Copper is included in both formulas due to the presence of zinc which can disrupt copper intake and cause anemia.
Summary: Beta carotene supplementation as recommended by AREDS 1 was found to increase risk of lung cancer in smokers. The AREDS2 formulation replaced the beta-carotene with lutein and zeaxanthin as these also belong to the same family of nutrients as beta-carotene and offer protective benefits for eyes.
6 Common Eye Disorders
As we grow older the risk of eye disease becomes higher. Some of the most common eye maladies are listed below.
Refractive errors affect 11 million people in America. It begins at an early age of 12 years. Nearsightedness, farsightedness, presbyopia, and astigmatism can all be corrected with prescription glasses, contact lenses and surgery as required.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration
The macula is a part of the retina that is vital for the central part of the vision. Changes to the macula cause AMD. It is mostly found among the elderly. Some forms of macular degeneration are not associated with age and can occur even in young people.
The macular region of the eyes sends information to the brain, observing details of its object of vision and focusing. Some of the early signs of AMD are:
- Inability to see objects clearly
- Shape distortion of objects
- A central dark area with only peripheral vision
- Unclear color vision
- Wavy appearance of straight lines
If any of the above occurs, contact your optometrist for a thorough eye examination.
Today around 7.3 million people are at risk of developing this vision disease.
Two types of AMD can occur.
The wet AMD occurs when the blood vessels behind the retina begin to grow under the macular region. It can cause leaking of blood and fluid and with scarring of these blood vessels speed up the process leading to blindness.
In the dry AMD condition, the macula thins out and causes vision blurring. Though the wet form of AMD progresses faster it is the dry AMD that is common accounting for 70 to 90% of AMD. One of the early signs of dry AMD is the appearance of yellow deposits below the retina. These are fatty protein substances. A presence indicates a risk of the development of this eye disorder.
A cataract is the clouding of the eyes and causes blindness. This disorder can occur at any age and at times is present at birth too. The symptoms are bright light irritation, color fading, and double or blurry vision. Apart from aging, trauma and radiation exposure also can cause cataracts.
Though treatment is available a lack of awareness of this disorder coupled with cost hampers proper remedy for this common eye disease. This vision disease affects more than 24 million Americans.
Caused due to complications of diabetes, this malady can affect anyone within the age group of 20 to 70 years and more. The progressive damage to the blood vessels of the retina occurs in four stages.
From mild, it moves to become severe with more and more blood vessels to the retina getting blocked. Though this condition can be managed by timely intervention and treatment of blood sugar control, more than 50% of people with diabetes do not undertake an eye examination.
The imbalanced fluid pressure of the eye causes glaucoma. Recent studies have shown that the normal pressure of this eye does not prevent this disease. However, an early diagnosis will prevent loss of vision.
Two types of glaucoma can come about. The open-angle glaucoma is also called the ‘sneak thief of sight’ because the person is not aware of the disorder until it is at an advanced stage. The ‘closed-angle’ glaucoma causes severe and sudden pain that leads to quick diagnosis and treatment.
Strabismus is the lack of coordination between the eyes. Both eyes look at different objects at the same point. The cause of this eye disease in children is not known. The brain may stop processing the information from one of the eyes and image perception becomes absent. This may lead to vision loss in that eye.
Summary: Macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma are some of the most common eye diseases. The risk of getting these diseases are dependent on multiple factors such as genetics, chronic diseases, lifestyle, etc.
Who Is Considered ‘Legally Blind’?
Legally blind means that eyeglasses or contact lenses cannot correct your vision and therefore under the law, you are considered as a person without eyesight. In the United States legal blindness is based on visual acuity (what’s in front of you) and field of vision (what’s above, below and on the sides).
Measuring Visual Acuity: The Snellen Eye Chart has small-sized letters in its last row. A base viewing distance of 20 feet is measured against the standard vision at a distance of 20 feet. However, if with a corrective lens these letters can be viewed at 20 feet that can be normally read by people at 200 feet means that the central visual acuity is at 20/200 or lower and the person is legally blind. A driver’s license will be difficult to obtain.
Measuring Visual Field: Some people suffer from peripheral vision wherein they are able to read the small letters on the eye chart but will not see anybody or any object beside them. This is another category of legal blindness. Peripheral vision is necessary for driving a car. Peripheral vision tests two parameters namely vertical and lateral. According to an estimate by the National Eye Institute as many as one million Americans were legally blind in the year 2015. The number under this category will probably double by the year 2050.
Causes Of Legal Blindness: The major causes of legal blindness in the United States are age-related macular degeneration, cataract, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. Some people become blind due to accidents.
People who are legally blind can avail of certain special benefits. Tax deductions are provided by the state and federal authorities. There are many non-government resources that help to lead a normal life. Many eye doctors specialize in low vision. It will be useful to avail of these special services.
As far as nutrition is considered, the right nutrients may help improve vision to a certain extent in some of these cases or atleast slow down the progression of blindness causing diseases such as cataract and AMD.
7 Factors to Look for While Buying Eye Supplements?
A multivitamin supplement will supply all the vitamin nutrients needed for maintaining good eye health. A good read of the label of contents will give information about its ingredients and quantities available. A few more guidelines are given below to help you decide on the right supplement for your eyes.
- Eye supplements should contain vitamins especially A, C, E, and B2. The contents should include selenium and zinc. Lutein will be present in most eye supplements and more so after the AREDS2 investigation.
- If you have been a smoker in the past or you are a smoker currently, ensure that your eye supplement does not contain beta-carotene. It would be wise to also consult a physician before using the supplement.
- Check for fillers. Reputable companies do not add fillers to their product.
- If you are lactose intolerant it is better to buy supplements that do not contain dairy products. If you have allergies then corn and wheat as fillers should be avoided.
- Make sure your purchase will be used well within the expiration date. The seal of the container should not be broken.
- The daily value determines the number of tablets or capsules to be consumed. It may vary between individuals as the dosage of ingredients required may differ. Capsules are usually better absorbed than tablets which can be hard to dissolve and assimilate.
- The bioavailability of the nutrients in the supplement implies that the product has quality ingredients. The body is able to easily absorb the nutrients.
10 Beneficial Ways To Improve Your Eyesight
A regular check-up ensures early detection of any eye disorder and prevents further deterioration of any infection. Some more tips have been enlisted below:
Well- Balanced Diet
A well-balanced diet filled with vitamins and minerals cannot be overemphasized for healthy eyes. Macular degeneration can be prevented with regular intake of foods or supplements that have vitamin A, C, and E and minerals such as zinc. Vegetables and fruits are rich in these nutrients. For example carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, spinach, red peppers, strawberries, and citrus fruits.
Salmon and flax seeds are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. Lutein and zeaxanthin are important carotenoids, that help to absorb ultraviolet and blue light. Apart from green leafy vegetables, eggs, zucchini, and broccoli, supplemental forms of lutein and zeaxanthin are also available.
Exercise and Fitness
Staying fit helps in preventing diabetes that can cause diabetic retinopathy. Diabetes causes a surge of blood sugar that damages the walls of arteries. In the eyes, the arteries of the retina begin to leak blood and fluid causing vision impairment.
Exercise and weight management with regular blood sugar check-ups will prevent this disease of the eye.
Chronic Medical Condition Management
Multiple sclerosis is an attack on the central nervous system where damage to the protective layer of myelin occurs. Inflammation, tissue scarring, and lesions affect the health of the eyes too. Proper medications and healthy habits can manage this medical condition.
High blood pressure is among the most common afflictions among the young and old. Antihypertensive medication along with a heart-healthy diet and exercise can treat this condition.
Protection of the eyes is mandatory for those who are involved in garage work, playing an outdoor game or participating in a science experiment in school.
Chemicals or sharp objects, metal shards or wood shavings are risks that can permanently damage eyes.
Sunglasses prevent UVA and UVB lights from harming the eyes. While ultraviolet A light penetrates the skin’s thickest layer ultraviolet B light burns the outer skin. 99 to 100% of these UV lights are blocked with the use of sunglasses. Damage is averted that could have caused cataract and macular degeneration to set in. Damage can lead to the growth of a tissue called pterygium which is the initial stage of astigmatism. A wide-brimmed hat will also protect eyes from being damaged by UV lights.
The 20-20-20 Rule
Every 20 minutes you should stop looking at the computer and look away at an object that is approximately 20 meters away and for 20 seconds. This relaxes the eye from the strain of constantly looking at the screen of the computer or laptop.
Say ‘No To Smoking’
We are well aware of the harmful effects of smoking. The lungs and heart apart from hair, skin, teeth are the parts of the body that get initially affected. Smoking increases the risk of eye diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration. Quitting and avoiding smoking will have an immediate positive reversal of damage to these parts of the body.
Be Aware Of Your Family’s Eye Disorders
Being aware of the family’s eye diseases will help you to take precautions and steps to prevent a follow on as some eye disorders can be inherited with a little lapse in eye care or a healthy lifestyle. Some of the diseases that can be inherited are glaucoma, optic atrophy, macular degeneration, and retina degeneration.
Eyes are among the most vulnerable parts of the body to infections. Simple eye irritation can affect your vision. Washing your hands before touching the eyes or lenses is very important. Disinfecting contact lenses regularly as per the instructions given is crucial. Timely disposal of lenses at the time of its expiry date is another step that will keep infection at bay.
Blue Light and Devices
Across the world, devices are used during work. These devices emit high energy blue light. It is useful to follow a few simple steps to prevent any eye damage while using these devices.
- Keep the computer at a distance of 20 to 24 inches from your body
- Blink frequently
- Keep the screen of the computer a little below eye level
- Follow the 20-20-20 rule
- Use an eye lubricant if eye irritation persists
- Try and avoid working at night
Dosage, Side Effects and Precautions
As far as dosage is concerned, it’s best to follow the instructions given on the label of the product you choose and formulations differ across various brands of eye vitamin supplements.
The best time to take eye vitamins would be at the beginning of the day, after your meal, though these supplements can be taken at any time of the day. Some people may experience nausea or vomiting sensations when taking these on an empty stomach. If so, then make sure to have it with a snack to avoid digestive discomforts.
Combining multiple dietary supplements can turn dangerous as you may overdose on certain nutrients such as vitamin A. Overdose of vitamin A is lethal and may cause death. Vitamin A is fat soluble and gets stored in the body and over long term, too much of vitamin A in your system may cause rashes, dizziness, headaches, intracranial pressure, liver damage, and pain in your joints and bones.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids and overdosing on them can cause a yellow-orange skin discoloration known as carotenodermia. Overconsumption of foods rich in carotenoids, such as carrots and sweet potatoes, also lead to this condition. This is considered to be harmless, though it sometimes gets misdiagnosed as jaundice. Adjusting your intake of these nutrients to the right dosage will ensure that our skin color returns to normal within 3 to 4 weeks.
These supplements do not require prescriptions and therefore it is even more necessary for those who are nursing or pregnant to consult a physician before starting on a course of eye supplements. People who are on other medications and/or taking blood thinner should not proceed to take these supplements before consulting their doctor. At no point in time should a user exceed the instructed dosage as it could lead to drug toxicity or reaction.
The Final Note
A proper diet rich in nutrients that helps your eyes to remain healthy accompanied by regular exercise will prevent the onset of eye diseases. There are many important nutrients that are required for the proper functioning, repair and maintenance of your eyes. A deficiency in any of these nutrients can cause problems with your vision and lead to the development of various eye diseases.
The right combination of nutrients in your diet can also slow down the progression of eye disorders such as cataract and AMD. The body does not produce Lutein and zeaxanthin. They can be obtained via food sources or supplementation. These are among the most important eye nutrients especially for the macula region of the eye filtering blue light. Regular check-ups will help you to intervene and avert possible risks of developing eye disorders.