Insights & Actions for Healthy Living

Are there special vitamins and minerals I should take to protect my eyes?

Prevention is a wonderful goal, it is great that you are taking such an active role in your overall health. Many of us overlook the importance of eye health and doing what we can to protect our vision.

Nutrition is important to the health of our eyes in the same way as the rest of our bodies. There have been research studies examining if specific nutrients are important and if taking supplements can help prevent eye damage such as cataracts and age related macular degeneration.

One such study was the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) completed in 2001. Nutrients studied included zinc, vitamin A, vitamin C, beta-carotene and copper. Supplementing these substances in pharmacological levels did not impact the development of cataracts and only showed some promise in those at high risk of developing age related macular degeneration. A follow-up AREDS study completed in 2013 added the antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin, and omega-3 fatty acids.  The antioxidants are in the same family as beta-carotene. It also looked into the effect on the eyes when beta-carotene was stopped and zinc was lowered. It was thought that the levels in the first study were too high. This study found little evidence that supplements would prevent eye problems when using lutein/zeaxanthin and omega 3 fatty acids along with beta-carotene. If the person studied had low levels of those antioxidants in their diet, the addition of them to their diet showed a lower risk of age related macular degeneration and need for cataract surgery. Eliminating zinc and beta-carotene had no effect on the results.

What researchers tell us is that there is not sufficient evidence that supplements will prevent eye disease even though pharmaceutical companies market vitamins specific to eye health. They encourage us to maintain a healthy diet and good nutrition over our lifetimes to prevent deficiencies thereby protecting our eyes. It is important to include antioxidants by eating fresh fruits and vegetables including dark green leafy vegetables. They also caution us to stop smoking, be physically active and control our blood pressure. Adequate blood flow to our eyes is important.

The experts agree, get regular dilated eye exams and eat a healthy diet to guard your eye health. Be cautious with supplements which might interfere with your other medications and let your doctor know the over-the-counter supplements you might be taking.

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