What are the best vitamins for eye health?
Though it's not something one tends to think about before noticing vision loss or impaired vision, eye health is really important to pay attention to and before it becomes a problem. There are many natural supplements and nutrients that can be supportive in helping to keep your eyes healthy but also in the prevention of eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a degenerative eye disease that can cause blurry vision. This happens due to damage caused to the reticula and is the leading cause of vision impairment among the aging population.
Research suggests that the risk of AMD may be prevented and its progression may be slowed through maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle in addition to the use of targeted vitamins that promote proper eye health (1)(2).
Moving towards a more balanced diet and integrating nutritional supplements could make a big difference in eye-related health conditions especially for those at a higher risk of eye problems (3).
1. Vitamin A and beta carotene
Vitamin A has been shown to exert many benefits for vision health and is part of the formulation recommended for the treatment of age-related eye diseases (4).
What's the difference between vitamin A and beta carotene?
Beta carotene is a carotenoid and antioxidant naturally occurring in plant foods. It is a precursor to vitamin A, also known as provitamin A, which means it must be converted into the active form of the vitamin by the liver before being utilized. On the other hand, Preformed vitamin A or retinol is the active form of the vitamin, that can be used immediately by the body and is only found in animal foods.
It has been found to be an essential nutrient for eye health preservation.
Vitamin A helps to maintain the outer covering of the eye, reduce oxidative damage to the eye, and activate rhodopsin, an important protein that allows us to see in dim lighting (5).
Low levels of vitamin A have been associated with poor night vision and higher dietary intake of vitamin A has been associated with a reduced risk of cataracts and AMD (6). Vitamin A deficiency is actually the leading cause of preventable vision loss worldwide (7).
Sweet potato, leafy green vegetables, pumpkin, eggs, cantaloupe, liver, mackerel, and tuna are good sources of beta carotene and vitamin A.
Age-related macular degeneration is thought to be related to cumulative oxidative damage and supplementing with antioxidant supplements including beta carotene have been shown to reduce the risk of advanced macular degeneration by up to 25% (8)(9).
2. Vitamin E
Another of the antioxidant vitamins, vitamin E can help to protect your cells from oxidative stress and damage, including the eyes.
As degeneration of the eyes has been associated with increased oxidative damage, it comes as no surprise that studies have shown vitamin E supplements may help to reduce the risk for cataracts as well (10).
Daily intake of natural forms of vitamin E can help to maintain overall eye health. Dietary sources of vitamin E may include sunflower seeds, almonds, Atlantic salmon, avocados, and trout.
3. Vitamin C
And again, another powerful antioxidant, it seems like there may be a pattern starting here. The importance of antioxidants for eye health cannot be ignored.
As oxidative damage may contribute to the development of AMD and cataracts, vitamin C and other antioxidants may play an important role in the treatment and prevention of eye-related diseases and degeneration (12).
One study found that the risk of cataract development was 45% lower in women who supplemented with vitamin C regularly (13).
We also know that vitamin C is required to make collagen, which makes up our tissues and supports the structure of the eye.
4. B vitamins
Particularly important B vitamins for the eyes include vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B9 (folic acid), and vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin).
Interestingly, there has been an association between homocysteine and B vitamin levels and the development of degenerated eye diseases such as AMD (14). Supplementation with vitamins B6, B9, and B12 has been shown to potentially help reduce this risk (15).
But it doesn't stop there! Vitamin B1 has also been shown to support eye health by decreasing oxidative stress and it even has the potential to reduce the risk of cataracts. Studies show an association between higher dietary intakes of vitamin B1 with decreased risks of age-related cataracts among men and women (16).
Niacin may be particularly useful in the prevention and treatment of glaucoma, the leading cause of blindness in the US (17). There may also be a link between low niacin levels and glaucoma, as suggested by a study conducted among Korean adults (18).
5. Lutein and zeaxanthin
Lutein & zeaxanthin make up the carotenoid family, and can actually be found in the macula and retina of the eyes. They are particularly effective at filtering potentially harmful blue light, protecting the eyes from damage especially inflammatory-related damage (19).
Supplementation of these carotenoids has been shown to reduce the risk and slow the progression of advanced AMD and also cataract development (20)(21)(22).
You can supplement but you can also obtain lutein and zeaxanthin from food sources as well which may include kale, spinach, pistachios, romaine, squash, and green peas.
Zinc plays a key role in maintaining healthy vision but it may also influence the development of macular degeneration.
Zinc, in combination with other antioxidants, has been shown to help combat age-related eye diseases with promising results on improving health outcomes and postponing the progression of blindness (25).
7. Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are well known for their anti-inflammatory properties and they are also important for visual development and maintenance. The eyes are actually highly concentrated in these omega fats and DHA, a type of omega 3 fat in particular, has been shown to accumulate in the retina (26)(27).
These fats have been shown to help slow the progression of vision loss and reduce dry eyes (28).
Studies have indicated that those who consume more of these fats had a lower risk of developing AMD (29).
Omega 3 fatty acids are commonly found in wild fatty fish sources but also plant sources such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
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