You’ve probably heard this many times when you were growing up – “eat your carrots! They’re good for your eyes.” While carrots contain beta-carotene, a substance that the body turns into vitamin A that’s great for your eyes, you have to eat a lot to hit the right levels. Plus, there’s only so much vitamin A you can consume before it stops being effective.
This is where eye supplements come in. However, do eye supplements even work? And what is the science behind eye supplements? Let’s get into it.
The Science Behind Eye Supplements
Several claims are made every day about the efficacy of supplements and how they can help people with eye problems.
However, there are only so many research studies out there to back these claims. The National Eye Institute has conducted two studies known as the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS and AREDS2).
AREDS2 used information from the first study and improved supplement recommendations for eye problems.
Both studies focused on two distinct conditions; Cataracts and Age-Related Macular Degeneration.
A cataract develops when the eye’s lens becomes cloudy. Initially, the condition affects your ability to see properly and performs daily tasks. However, this doesn’t cause too much impairment, and people can go about their daily lives at this stage.
However, cataracts worsen with time. Cataracts are extremely common in older adults and millions of people are diagnosed with this condition every year.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
AMD is among the most common causes of vision loss in the United States. Every year, it affects over 10 million people.
While it is common among older people, younger individuals aren’t safe either. The macula area of the retina contains light-sensitive cells. AMD occurs when these cells start deteriorating.
This part of the eye is also responsible for the following.
- Recording what we see.
- Sending information to the brain.
- Seeing fine detail.
- Focusing on objects both near and far.
The supplements recommended in these studies were as follows.
- vitamin C: 500 mg
- vitamin E: 400 IU
- Lutein: 10 mg
- Zeaxanthin: 2 mg
- Zinc: 80 mg
- Copper: 2 mg (to prevent copper deficiency due to zinc)
The participants in the second study took one of the four combinations of the supplements identified as beneficial in the first study for five years.
Over six years, these supplements reduced the risk of vision loss and AMD by 25%. The symptoms slowed down in people who specifically had mild AMD.
People with advanced AMD showed no signs of improvement. Moreover, the supplements used in the study didn’t prevent AMD. They also didn’t restore vision loss.
In the second study, supplements containing Lutein and zeaxanthin reduced the need for surgery by 32% in individuals with low dietary levels of these carotenoids.
The studies had some positive results, and they helped researchers identify the beneficial effects of certain supplements.
There is still room for research to understand the benefits of supplements and their ability to improve eye conditions.
Which Supplements Are Beneficial for Eye Health?
The cornea is the outer coating of your eye. Vitamin A improves vision by clearing the cornea. This vitamin is a crucial component of Rhodopsin, a protein in the eyes that helps us see in low-light conditions.
In developed countries, vitamin A deficiency is rare. However, if left untreated, it can cause a condition called Xerophthalmia. Xerophthalmia is a progressive condition that starts with night blindness.
Vitamin A deficiency can also dry out your tear ducts. As a result, the cornea starts softening, which may result in permanent blindness. Moreover, some studies have shown that regular intake of vitamin A can help prevent cataracts and AMD. Vitamin A can be found in bell peppers, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and leafy green vegetables.
Several eye problems stem from oxidative stress due to an imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that protects eye cells against free radicals, which are unstable harmful molecules.
Studies have shown that vitamin E can help prevent age-related cataracts. However, more research is needed in this area.
Leafy vegetables, salmon, seeds, olive oil, and nuts are foods rich in vitamin E and can help you maintain your eye health for a long time.
Vitamin C is another antioxidant that protects the eyes against free radicals. It is one of the several other nutrients used in the AREDS supplement that helps people with AMD.
Vitamin C is also crucial in forming Collagen, a protein that gives structure to the eyes, especially in the Sclera and the Cornea.
Several studies suggest vitamin C can help prevent cataracts, cloudy vision, and vision impairment.
Another study shows that people who ingested more than 490 mg of vitamin C had a 75% less risk of developing cataracts.
A similar study shows that regular vitamin C intake can reduce the risk of cataracts by 45%. Vitamin C is largely found in tropical and citrus fruits, broccoli, bell peppers, and kale.
Vitamins B6, B9, and B12
These vitamins can collectively lower homocysteine levels, a protein causing inflammation. This protein can also increase the risk of developing AMD.
A study on women showed a 34% reduced risk of AMD by taking 1000mg of vitamin B12 alongside vitamin B9 and B6.
However, there is still room for research to determine further benefits of these vitamins for the eyes.
Moreover, it is still being determined if increasing your intake of vitamin B-rich foods will have the same effects.
Vitamin B2, also known as Riboflavin, is an antioxidant that reduces oxidative stress in your body and your eyes.
Currently, scientists are studying the impacts of Riboflavin on cataracts, as prolonged Riboflavin deficiency may result in this condition. Interestingly, a lot of people with cataracts are diagnosed with riboflavin deficiency.
A study found that the participants with riboflavin intake of 1.6-2.2mg had a 31-51% less risk of developing cataracts than those consuming 0.88mg of Riboflavin.
According to some health authorities, a daily intake of 1.1-1.3mg of Riboflavin is necessary to maintain eye health.
Food rich in Riboflavin includes milk, oats, beef, yogurt, and fortified cereals.
The main purpose of Niacin is the conversion of food into energy. It also serves as an antioxidant.
Recent studies show that Niacin can help prevent a condition called Glaucoma that damages your eye’s optic nerve.
A study was conducted to check the nutritional intake of Korean adults. Most of the subjects had a higher risk of developing Glaucoma.
The adults that were more susceptible to developing Glaucoma had one thing in common, and that was the insufficient intake of Niacin.
Animal studies have also been conducted on this topic. In some of these studies, the researchers found that Niacin was vital in preventing Glaucoma.
However, more research is needed to understand the association between Niacin and its effectiveness in solving the problem of Glaucoma.
Moreover, it is important to use supplements with caution. If Niacin is consumed in higher amounts, it can negatively impact your eyes.
You may even end up with macular damage, blurred vision, and inflammation in the cornea. Niacin is found in several foods like beef, fish, chicken, legumes, and peanuts.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin
These two are part of the Carotenoid family compounds that plants synthesize. These carotenoids are found in the macula and the retina of the eye.
These carotenoids help your eyes filter blue light and prevent eye damage. Several studies have found that these carotenoids help prevent the formation of cataracts and AMD.
In a controlled study, the researchers found the benefits of Lutein for people with cataracts. Over two years, the subjects taking regular supplements showed significant clarity in their vision.
However, people still need to establish the daily intake for their carotenoids. Therefore, taking too much of them can have adverse impacts.
However, in a handful of studies, 20mg of these carotenoids per day has been used as the daily intake without any adverse impacts.
Nonetheless, you may not need additional supplements, and as little as 6mg of these carotenoids can yield some amazing benefits. These two are found in cooked spinach, kale, and collard greens.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fat. The cell membranes in your retina contain a kind of Omega-3 known as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Omega-3 fatty acids are good for three main reasons. They improve the health of your eye cells. They also have inflammatory properties, and they help in preventing diabetic retinopathy.
A review of 31 studies shows that traditional Mediterranean diets and diets high in oily fish may fight against diabetic retinopathy.
However, more research is needed to deduce the effectiveness of omega-3 fatty acids in dealing with such problems.
Interestingly, omega-3 fatty acids promote eye health by producing more tears. A lack of tears can result in dry eyes, disturbed vision, blurriness, and discomfort.
To get your daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids, you must eat fish, soy, chia seeds, and nuts. You must also ensure a regular intake of olive oil and canola oil.
Vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, is crucial in cell formation and the conversion of food into energy.
It is also helpful in mitigating the risk of developing cataracts. According to a study involving 2900 subjects in Australia, thiamine can reduce your risk of cataracts by 40%.
It has also been proposed as a potential treatment for the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. A study found that 100mg of thiamine daily reduces the amount of albumin in urine, which alludes to diabetic retinopathy, especially in type-2 diabetes.
You must take foods like meat, fish, and whole grains to increase your daily thiamine intake. It is also found in cereals, bread, and pasta.
Tips to Improve Eye Health
Your eye health depends on various factors, including genetics and age. Eating a healthy and balanced diet and getting sufficient sleep can keep your eyes in top shape for a long time. Here are some quick tips to take care of your eye health.
Smoking is bad for the blood vessels in your eyes. Damaged blood vessels can cause macular disease, cataracts, and various sight problems.
Make sure to protect your eyes against the ultraviolet rays of the sun. Always wear your shades out in the open, and don’t look directly into bright light sources.
Take Care of Your Diet
As discussed, diet is important for healthy eyes. Ensure your diet has many leafy vegetables, citrus, and tropical fruits. Moreover, use protein sources like fish, chicken, and beef. All of these foods contain nutrients that are present in the AREDS 2 formulation.
Supplements help keep your eyes healthy for a long time, but they are only supplements. They must be taken along with a healthy and balanced diet, ample exercise, and sufficient sleep.
Moreover, numerous medications and supplements are available in the market and online. You need to make sure the supplements you’re taking actually do their job and work toward improving your eye health.
Make sure to see a doctor at least once every two months. Only after a thorough examination can a doctor prescribe the right medicine, keeping you from consuming what could be potentially dangerous.
Now that you know more about the science behind eye supplements and the various vitamins and minerals that make up these supplements, you have more information to start taking them to improve your eye health.