Eating for Eye Health

Daughter feeding a carrot to her mother

What goes in is what comes out, they say.

They also say you are what you eat.

It’s not a secret that eating well and healthily offers a multitude of benefits for your body and your mind. And though you can’t eat good vision, research tells us that there are certain foods and nutrients that can keep your eyes shining bright for as long as possible. Here is a list of things to include in your diet for good eye health.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A plays an important role at both the front of the eye as well as the back. It helps to protect the front surface of the eye including the transparent cornea and the conjunctiva, which is the membrane covering the whites. It does this by supporting the production of a mucin secretion from cells known as goblet cells, which contributes to a healthy tear film. For this reason, some dry eye treatments will include vitamin A in their formulation.

Vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene has also been studied for its role in reducing the progression of age-related macular degeneration (alongside various other nutrients). This trial, known as AREDS, found that this particular formulation was effective for slowing or stopping the progression of age-related macular degeneration in certain types of patients.

Rhodopsin is a photopigment found in rod photoreceptors of the retina. We use the rod photoreceptors for vision in dim lighting, such as at nighttime. For the body to produce rhodopsin, it requires vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiency, though rare in developed countries such as the US, can therefore be linked to night-blindness as one of the first signs.

Good sources of vitamin A include:

  • Carrots
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Peppers
  • Pumpkin

 

The Vitamin B Group

You’re probably aware that there are a number of vitamin Bs – there are 8 of them, in fact! Some research has been done on vitamins B6, B9, and B12 in reducing the risk of age-related macular degeneration. However, the study had limitations meaning eye doctors don’t tend to recommend these B vitamins routinely for eye health. More research is needed to properly understand the benefit of vitamin B for macular degeneration.

More recently, vitamin B3 supplementation has been found to have a protective effect against glaucoma. Glaucoma is a complex disease involving damage to the optic nerve and progressive loss of your peripheral vision. Also known as niacin, vitamin B3 is thought to have neuroprotective abilities, reducing the risk of developing glaucoma.

Vitamin B-rich foods include:

  • Beef
  • Fish
  • Mushrooms
  • Peanuts
  • Poultry

 

Vitamin C

If you suspected after vitamins A and B would come C, you’re correct! And no, this doesn’t stand for vitamin carrot, although carrots do contain a reasonable amount of vitamin C and are often hailed as a super vision veggie.

Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant. The importance of antioxidants come from their ability to fight damaging free radicals in the body, not just the eyes. Free radicals are unstable molecules created during normal cell metabolism. The problem is that the accumulation of these molecules results in damage to other cell components, such as DNA, which is associated with various diseases and signs of aging.

Vitamin C is included in that AREDS formulation that has proven benefits for age-related macular degeneration. There is also some evidence that it can help to lower the risk of developing cataracts. Cataracts are typically considered a natural part of older age but it may be possible to delay their development with antioxidants as doctors believe free radicals play a role in their formation.

You can find vitamin C in foods such as

  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Bell peppers
  • Citrus fruits

Eggs, Brussels sprouts, and strawberries also contain good levels of this nutrient.

 

Vitamin E

We’re going to skip D and go straight to E. Vitamin E is another important player in the AREDS formulation for age-related macular degeneration. Like vitamins A and C, vitamin E is a strong antioxidant to help limit the damage caused by free radicals throughout the body.

There is some evidence that vitamin E intake may be helpful for reducing the risk of cataracts, but these studies are not conclusive.

Vitamin E can be found in:

  • Wheatgerm
  • Almonds
  • Chia seeds
  • Flax seeds
  • Hemp seeds

Avocado and salmon also contain beneficial levels of vitamin E.

 

Carotenoids

Now deviating from the alphabet, we come to carotenoids, which are a group of plant-produced compounds. In particular, lutein and zeaxanthin are of interest when it comes to eye health as they have antioxidant effects. The original AREDS formulation included beta-carotene, a form of vitamin A. However, it was found that this increased the risk of lung cancer in smokers. So, the AREDS2 formulation replaced beta-carotene with lutein and zeaxanthin, which was found to be just as effective at reducing the progression of age-related macular degeneration.

Lutein and zeaxanthin can be found in the retina of the eyes, where they are thought to play a part in protecting the delicate cells from damaging blue wavelength light. Studies have also noted a potential benefit of these carotenoids in reducing the risk of cataracts.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are the only carotenoids we obtain from the diet that can make their way to the retina. They can be found in:

  • Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and collard greens
  • Grapes
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Oranges

 

Omega-3

Omega-3 is a type of healthy fat that is important for a great many functions in the human body, including brain function and heart health. Its beneficial effects come from its anti-inflammatory properties. As inflammation is responsible (at least in part) for quite a number of diseases, reducing inflammation can only have good results.

When it comes to the eyes, omega-3 has been shown to be beneficial for managing dry eye disease. It does this by improving the function of the oil glands that contribute to the tear film, known as the meibomian glands. Retinal conditions with underlying inflammation such as age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy can also benefit from increased omega-3 intake.

A popular source of omega-3 is salmon, but other fish such as sardines, herring, flounder, and tuna also contain good amounts of omega-3. If you’re not into fish, you can boost your omega-3 intake through flaxseed, chia seeds, nuts, soy, and canola oil.

It should be mentioned that it is possible to consume overly excessive amounts of some of these nutrients. For example, too much vitamin E is a blood thinner and can also lead to an underactive thyroid. If you have a medical condition or are taking other medications, it’s a good idea to talk to your family physician first about whether increasing your intake of certain vitamins and minerals is safe for you.

 

 


← Back to Research & Publications

Research & Publications

Daughter feeding a carrot to her mother

Eating for Eye Health

What goes in is what comes out, they say. They also say you are what you eat. It’s not a secret that eating well and healthily …

How does LASIK work?

How Does LASIK Work?

The idea of getting rid of your eyeglasses or contact lenses can be pretty appealing, especially if you’ve been dependent …

Older woman with nearsightedness reading a newspaper

Is Short-Sightedness Really That Bad?

Short-sightedness, or near-sightedness, is a type of refractive error. It’s that type of refractive error that makes you …