Who Needs Eye Vitamins?
If you eat lots of kale, spinach, collard greens, turnip greens, brussels sprouts and carrots, you're probably primed for healthy vision that lasts a lifetime. Still don't like veggies? It's OK -- all is not lost. Eye vitamins and supplements can deliver the sight-protective nutrition of fruits and veggies in high levels. The sooner you start taking these eye vitamins, the better your outcome may be.
In fact, the National Eye Institute published a review that states: "If supplementation were in widespread use among individuals at risk for developing [age-related vision problems], vision loss could be prevented in more than 300,000 people over age 55 over a five-year period."
Of all the potential vision loss problems, it is Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) that poses the biggest threat. A condition that causes central vision to become blurrier and blurrier until it is fully obscured, AMD is responsible most of the vision loss in adults age 65+. Low fruit and vegetable consumption increases the risk of AMD.
In the vibrant fruit-and-veggie rainbow we find compounds called carotenoids: pigments that impart bright color. Carotenoids possess powerful antioxidant activity, which accounts for their many eye health benefits. Carrots, for example, are loaded with beta-carotene -- a precursor to vitamin A -- which is known to support clear, healthy vision.
Eye vitamins, especially those that contain carotenoid antioxidants, promote macular health and slow the progression of AMD. Even the US government (known for its legendary skepticism towards supplements) is on board, having given the thumbs-up to eye vitamins after launching major clinical studies on antioxidants and eye health.
One of these studies (called the Age-Related Eye Disease Study, or AREDS) found that those who took a high-level antioxidant supplement reduced their risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by 25 percent. The findings were corroborated by the subsequent Age Related Eye Disease Study #2, also known as AREDS 2, which contained the following eye vitamins in precisely-calibrated ratios:
While the researchers were quick to point out that there is no cure for AMD, they did report that eye vitamins may help those with a risk for AMD to preserve their vision. Eye vitamins for macular degeneration that match the formulations used in AREDS are now available.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin
Additional government studies (including AREDS2, the Sequel) are now focusing on super-carotenoid eye vitamins lutein and zeaxanthin, which have strong promise for eye health. Lutein and zeaxanthin hold the following exciting properties:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Found from natural sources such as cold-water fish, borage oil and flaxseed oil, Omega-3 fatty acids start promoting eye health when we're in the womb, serving as "building block" nutrients for eye cells. They appear to offer even more help later in life: A study of 75,000 male and female nurses and doctors revealed that those who ate the most Omega-3 rich fish had a 35% reduction in risk for AMD.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, flaxseed and borage oil are eye vitamins that can also help with dry eye syndrome. Tear production diminishes as we grow older, and while not nearly as severe as AMD, dry eye syndrome is annoying. Eye vitamins that contain superior-quality Omega-3s from a variety of sources can help.
How to Choose Eye Vitamins
Not all eye vitamins are equal. Choose wisely to sidestep ineffective formulations, and stick with a quality brand you trust for the best vision benefits. Some questions to ask:
A little research in finding the right brand will go a long way. When you make an informed decision, you can optimize your eye vitamin investment and achieve the clear, healthy vision that will define your quality of life for decades to come.
Always consult with a health professional before starting any wellness regimen, including use of any nutritional supplements, including eye vitamins. Beta-Carotene increases the risk of lung cancer in smokers. If you smoke and are interested in eye vitamins, be sure to take a supplement that has been formulated for smokers' special needs.
American Academy of Ophthalmology - Authoritative information about eye care
National Eye Institute - Part of the US National Institutes of Health
University of Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary - Dept. Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences
AREDS and AMD - NEI's commentary on AMD and eye vitamins
Lutein and Zeaxanthin - More info on the eye health-promoting carotenoids