Vision is one of our most important senses, and it plays a significant role in helping us perceive the world around us. As you get older, you may notice that your eyesight is not as great as it used to be. Aging can also make us more susceptible to certain eye conditions. (3) Continue reading to learn how you can improve eye health and reduce the risk of eye disease through the use of nutritional supplements.
Conditions that affect eye health
Aging and certain chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, can increase your risk of developing an eye disease. (21)
Age-related macular degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease that can cause your central vision to become blurry. AMD occurs when aging causes damage to the macula. The macula, which is responsible for sharp, straight-ahead vision, is part of the retina, the light-sensitive tissue located at the back of the eye. (17)
AMD is a common condition and is the leading cause of vision loss for older adults. AMD does not lead to complete blindness; however, its effect on central vision can make daily tasks such as recognizing faces, reading and driving more difficult. (17)
The development of AMD can vary between individuals, and vision may not be impacted during the early stages of the condition. (17) For this reason, it’s important to visit your eye doctor regularly.
The treatment for AMD depends on factors such as stage and type. Eating a healthy diet, not smoking, exercising regularly, and taking certain dietary supplements can help manage AMD and lower your risk of developing the condition. (17)
A cataract is the clouding of the lens in the eye, which leads to blurred vision. The clouding is caused by the breakdown of the protein in the lens, which occurs naturally with age. (20) Individuals start to develop cataracts after the age of 60. (6) Some factors may speed up the development of cataracts, including:
- Exposure to radiation
- Excess exposure to sunlight
- Family history of cataracts
- Having diabetes
- Inflammation in the eyes
- Injury to the eyes
- Long-term use of certain medications, such as corticosteroids
- Surgery for other eye issues
- Smoking (20)
Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is an eye condition that affects blood vessels in the retina in people who have diabetes. If left untreated, DR can lead to vision loss and blindness. Individuals with diabetes should get regular eye exams because early diagnosis can prevent vision loss. Keeping your blood sugar levels under control by exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and taking your medication can reduce your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. (18)
Diet and lifestyle factors that affect eye health
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, eating a balanced diet, and protecting your eyes from physical and sun damage can promote healthy eyes. Keep the following in mind when trying to support eye health:
- Avoid smoking.
- Consume antioxidant-rich foods, such as green leafy vegetables.
- Get eye exams regularly, and keep your contact lenses and glasses prescription up to date.
- Limit your alcohol consumption.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Keep your cholesterol and blood pressure in a healthy range.
- Keep your blood sugar levels under control if you are diabetic.
- Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun.
- Wear safety glasses when using hand tools or equipment (e.g., hammers, drills). (21)
Supplements for eye health
Eating a healthy diet is a key factor in maintaining eye health. However, it can sometimes be difficult to get an adequate amount of nutrients for optimal health from your diet alone. Taking certain dietary supplements, in addition to eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly, may help prevent certain eye-related diseases and promote optimal eye health. (13)
Beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A, is an important nutrient for vision. It is a part of the rhodopsin, the light-sensitive protein found in the retina. Vitamin A also plays a role in the proper functioning of the membranes in the eye and the cornea. (22) An inadequate intake of beta-carotene may lead to night vision problems, dry eye syndrome, and other serious eye conditions, such as vision loss and blindness. (9)
Additionally, studies have found that vitamin A may have a protective effect against developing various conditions such as cataracts and AMD. (26)(28)(29)
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, and excess amounts are stored in the body, which can lead to toxicity. (22) Additionally, high doses of beta carotene may increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers. (27) For this reason, it is important to take vitamin A, beta carotene, and all supplements as directed by your practitioner.
2. Vitamin C
Vitamin C, also referred to as ascorbic acid, is a water soluble vitamin and antioxidant. Because vitamin C is a potent antioxidant, it may protect the eyes against oxidative damage caused by free radicals. (23) Additionally, vitamin C is necessary for the production of collagen, a protein that is required for maintaining the structure of the eye. (11)(15)
Similar to vitamin A, vitamin C may lower the risk of developing cataracts and may slow the progression of AMD. Additionally vitamin C may prevent the loss of the ability to visually focus on an object. (4)(8)
3. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is another antioxidant that may help protect the eyes from oxidative damage. (4) Studies have found that supplementation with vitamin E, combined with vitamin A, C, and zinc, may slow or stop the progression of AMD. (1) There is also some evidence to suggest that a diet rich in vitamin E may reduce the risk of developing cataracts. (31)
4. Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that play several roles in relation to eye health. (25) Firstly, they have a protective effect in the retina by preventing oxidative damage, inflammation, and vascularization (enlargement of blood vessels). (11) Omega-3 fatty acids also support tear production and makeup the oily outer layer of the eye. (4) Due to their role in tear production, omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial for individuals with dry eye disease, an uncomfortable condition in which the eyes are not able to produce enough tears. (5)(19)
A systematic review conducted in 2018 found that consuming a diet rich in fiber and oily fish such as the Mediterranean diet may lower the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. (30) Finally, similar due to their anti-inflammatory properties Omega 3 fatty acids may help prevent AMD. (11)
5. Lutein and zeaxanthin
Lutein and zeaxanthin are types of plant compounds referred to as carotenoids, which are naturally present in leafy green vegetables. (16) These compounds are present in the retina of the eye and form the macular pigment of the eye. Lutein has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and helps to filter out blue light, (7)(12) the type of light emitted from LED screens, such as smartphones, televisions, and computer monitors. (3)
A randomized controlled trial conducted over two years found that supplementation with lutein may help to improve visual function in those that have cataracts. (24) Additionally, there is also some evidence that suggests that lutein and zeaxanthin may help to strengthen vision by improving contrast sensitivity and reducing glare. (10) Furthermore, a systematic review conducted in 2014 found that supplementation with lutein and zeaxanthin may help to improve vision in individuals with AMD. (14)
The bottom line
The eyes are important organs that help us perceive the world around us. Age and certain health conditions may make individuals more susceptible to eye health conditions. Maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and taking certain supplements may help to promote optimal eye health and lower the risk of developing eye conditions.
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- Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group. (2001). A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Clinical Trial of High-Dose Supplementation With Vitamins C and E, Beta Carotene, and Zinc for Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Vision Loss. Archives of Ophthalmology, 119(10), 1417.
- American Academy Ophthalmology. (2021, March 10). Should You Be Worried About Blue Light? American Academy of Ophthalmology. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/should-you-be-worried-about-blue-light
- American Optometric Association. (n.d.-a). Adult Vision: 41 to 60 Years of Age. AOA. https://www.aoa.org/healthy-eyes/eye-health-for-life/adult-vision-41-to-60-years-of-age?sso=y
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