Should I take eye care supplements?

Medically reviewed by Tina Patel, Contact Lens Optician at Feel Good Contacts.

Can eye vitamins improve vision?

There are claims that supplements for vision and eye health can have a positive effect on age related eye diseases including age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts.

The National Eye Institute undertook two age-related eye disease studies known as AREDS and AREDS2. Both studies explored the benefits of eye care supplements on age-related eye diseases.

AREDS looked at the effects of taking multivitamins on AMD and cataracts. The multivitamin supplement which contained beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, and copper was given to participants between the ages of 55-80 who had early or intermediate AMD. The candidates took the supplement daily for 5 years.

The study showed that multivitamins reduced the risk of AMD progressing by roughly 25% amongst people at high risk of vision loss as a result of AMD. It also showed that moderate AMD slowed down when taking the multivitamin. However, those with mild or very advanced stages of AMD did not benefit from the multivitamin. In addition to this, the supplements did not prevent AMD or reverse its effects.

In the AREDS2 study, lutein and zeaxanthin supplements were seen to reduce the need for cataract surgery by 32% in those who initially had low levels of these carotenoids in their diet.

AREDS2 contains more lutein and zeaxanthin than the original AREDS. This covers any deficiency in diet. AREDS2 does not contain any beta-carotene, unlike most other supplements. It is therefore safe for smokers and those who have just stopped smoking.

Please note, there are some supplements that are not suitable for smokers as they contain beta carotene, so read the label carefully before taking any.

While there is no research to suggest the exact amount of nutrients needed to keep vision healthy, eating 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day and oily fish twice a week seems to be the most useful way to prevent eye problems with age.

What are the best vitamins to take for eyes?

There are many vitamins and nutrients which can help to maintain eye health and can be found in a variety of foods. Below are some vitamins and minerals which support eye health and help to maintain healthy vision.

1. Vitamin A

Vitamin A helps to maintain a clear cornea and is crucial for good eyesight. It is part of rhodopsin, the protein which helps the eye to see in low lighting. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, a deficiency in vitamin A can lead to vision loss and night blindness. It can also cause dry eyes as those deficient in vitamin A will find that their eyes don’t produce enough moisture.

Beta carotene is a great way to get vitamin A through diet. It is a carotenoid found in deep yellow and orange fruits and vegetables. It is part of the essential visual pigments and a deficiency in beta carotene can lead to night blindness. Pumpkins, red peppers, kale, carrots, sweet potatoes and winter squash are all sources of beta carotene. When you consume beta-carotene, your body converts it into vitamin A.

2. Vitamin E

Vitamin E (also known as alpha-tocopherol) is an antioxidant which plays a role in neutralising oxidation. It helps to protect parts of the eye from oxidative damage and prevent eye conditions such as cataracts which is believed to be caused by oxidation in the eye’s lens.

In addition to this, the AREDS study showed that when taking vitamin E alongside other nutrients the risk of AMD progressing to advanced stages was reduced.

You can find vitamin E in nuts, sweet potatoes, sunflower seeds, wheat germ oil and vegetable oil as well as in fortified cereals.

3. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is also an antioxidant suggested by the AREDS study to reduce the risk of AMD progressing. It also makes collagen which forms the structure of the eye. You can get vitamin C through fruits and vegetables such as grapefruit, strawberries, brussels sprouts, ripe papayas, oranges and green peppers.

4. Vitamins B6, B9 and B12

According to one study, a combination of these vitamins can reduce the levels of homocysteine in your body. This is a protein that can cause inflammation and increase the risk of developing macular degeneration (AMD).

5. Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 helps to make up the cells in your retina and are anti-inflammatory which means that they might play a part in preventing diabetic retinopathy and can prevent AMD. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in oily fish such as salmon, herring and sardines.

Omega-3 can also help to produce tears, offering benefits to those with dry eye.

6. Riboflavin

Riboflavin (also known as vitamin B2) can benefit the eyes by helping to reduce oxidative stress.

7. Zinc

Zinc is a mineral which helps to bring vitamin A from the liver to the retina so that the pigment melanin can be produced, which protects the eyes. A deficiency in zinc has been linked to poor night vision and cloudy cataracts. You can get zinc from meat, eggs, peanuts and wholegrains.

8. Niacin

Niacin is another B vitamin which helps to convert food into energy and serves as an antioxidant. Research and studies have suggested that niacin can prevent glaucoma from developing; however, these vitamin supplements should be taken with caution as they can also cause blurry vision, macular damage and inflammation of the cornea if consumed in high amounts.

9. Thiamine

Thiamine keeps the nervous system healthy by helping to turn food into energy. According to research, thiamine could possibly reduce the risk of cataracts and potentially treat early stages of diabetic retinopathy.

10. Lutein and Zeaxanthin

Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids which are found in the macula and retina of your eyes. Their role is to filter out blue light in order to protect your eyes from damage.

You can get lutein and zeaxanthin from eggs and dark leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale. They are known to reduce the risk of AMD and cataracts.

Are lutein supplements effective?

Research has shown that lutein has a range of benefits on eye health.

Lutein supplements have been shown to prevent or slow down the development of macular degeneration as well as help to protect cells from oxidative stress and contribute to the maintenance of normal vision.

PreserVision Tablets are also effective supplements in maintaining eye health. They contain vitamin E and C to protect the cells from oxidative stress and feature a formula of zinc and vitamin A which contributes to the maintenance of normal vision. These supplements have been clinically proven to benefit the eyes.

Do you need supplements?

There are many foods to eat for good eye health and a healthy and balanced diet should always be the main source of vitamins and minerals; however, taking supplements can support your diet and is especially recommended for age-related eye diseases and those who have been diagnosed with deficiencies.

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