Deficiencies in certain vitamins can increase the risk of certain eye conditions, such as cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Research suggests that certain vitamin and mineral supplements may help protect against these conditions or slow their development.
In this article, we present four essential vitamins to healthy eyes. We also cover three other nutrients that are good for the eyes. Finally, we list the different food sources of these vitamins and nutrients.
4 Vitamins That Help Support Eye Health
People who wish to protect their eye health should try to include adequate amounts of the following vitamins in their diet.
1. Vitamin A and beta-carotene
Vitamin A is essential for good vision. It is a component of the protein rhodopsin, which allows the eye to see in low light conditions. Vitamin A deficiency can lead to night blindness. Vitamin A also helps the functioning of the cornea, which is the protective outer layer of the eye. A person who is deficient in vitamin A may find that their eyes produce too little moisture to stay lubricated. Beta-carotene is the main source of vitamin A in the human diet. Beta-carotene is a type of plant pigment called a carotenoid, found in many colorful fruits and vegetables. When a person consumes carotenoids, their body transforms the pigments into vitamin A.
2. Vitamin E
Alpha-tocopherol is a form of vitamin E that has particularly powerful antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help fight free radicals, which damage body tissues. Sometimes free radicals can damage eye proteins. This damage can lead to the development of cloudy areas called cataracts on the lens of the eye. A study by 2014 looked at studies linking vitamin E to cataract prevention. Some of this research found that lens clarity was better in people who took vitamin E supplements.
3. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is another powerful antioxidant that helps protect against oxidative damage. Oxidative damage is a key factor in two of the most common age-related diseases: cortical cataracts and nuclear cataracts. Cortical cataracts develop around the edges of the lens, while nuclear cataracts occur deep in its center or “core”. A longitudinal study by 2016 looked at different factors that may prevent the development of nuclear cataract. The study involved more than 1 000 pairs of binoculars.
At the start of the study, the researchers measured the participants’ cataracts. They then tracked each participant’s vitamin C and other nutrient intake for years.
At the end of the study period, the researchers remeasured the cataracts of 93 pairs of binoculars. Participants who reported consuming more vitamin C showed a reduction in 29 % risk of cataract progression. They also had lighter lenses overall.
4. B vitamins
A study by 2009 suggests that daily supplementation with a combination of vitamins B-6, B-9 and B-10 may reduce the risk of AMD. AMD is a degenerative eye disease that affects vision. However, this particular study only involved women. Further research is therefore needed to support the use of B vitamins in the prevention of AMD in both women and men.
An older study looked at the Nutrient Intake and Eye Health in 2 900 Elderly 49 at 97 years. The results revealed that higher intakes of protein, vitamin A and B vitamins (riboflavin, thiamin and niacin) were associated with a lower rate of nuclear cataracts.
A study conducted in 2016 nationwide in South Korea found a link between reduced intake of vitamin B-3, or niacin, and glaucoma. In people with glaucoma, a buildup of fluid in the eye puts pressure on the optic nerve. Over time, this pressure can damage the nerve and lead to loss of vision.
3 Other Eye Health Nutrients
Research suggests that the following nutrients are also beneficial for the eyes.
1. Lutein and zeaxanthin
Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids that exist in large quantities in green leafy vegetables. They are also present in the lens and retina of the eye.
As antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin may help reduce oxidative damage in the retina. Some research suggests that taking about 6 milligrams (mg) per day of lutein and zeaxanthin may reduce the risk of developing AMD.
Zinc is a mineral that helps maintain the health of the retina, cell membranes and protein structure of the eye. Zinc allows vitamin A to pass from the liver to the retina to produce melanin. Melanin is a pigment that protects the eyes from ultraviolet (UV) rays. Zinc supplementation can help people with AMD or at risk of developing the condition. Taking from 33 to 93 mg of zinc per day, in addition to certain antioxidants, could slow down by 25 % the progression of advanced AMD. It may also reduce visual acuity loss by 10 %.
3. Omega-3 fatty acids
The retina of the eye contains a particularly high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids help protect the retina from damage and degeneration.
Specifically, omega-3s reduce the buildup of fatty deposits in blood vessels, including those that supply blood to the retina. Some scientists believe fatty deposits in these blood vessels may contribute to AMD. Additionally, a small body of research suggests that increasing omega-3 intake may reduce the risk of dry eye syndrome. A person with dry eye syndrome does not produce enough tears to keep the eyes lubricated. However, research in this area is limited and further studies are needed to support this claim.
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Yonova-Doing, E., et al. (2016). Genetic and dietary factors influencing the progression of nuclear cataract.
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