Aging Eyes Need a Nutrient Boost to Stay Healthy

eye representing vision looking upward

As we age, one issue most us have to face is diminished eyesight. Indeed, age-related eye diseases are expected to rise as more people reach the age of 45. Even though seniors (45-65 years old) think that vision is the most important of the five senses, most were not aware that some nutrients can make a difference in the health of the eye.[1]

older woman reading with a magnifying glassAge-related loss of vision due to macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy can be attributed to damage on a cellular level. Antioxidants and anti-inflammatories found in certain vitamins and minerals help fight the free radicals that are wreaking havoc throughout the body, including the eyes.[2] Yet, many seniors are not getting enough of these nutrients from their diets.[3]

You’ll find supplements on the market designed specifically to keep your eyes healthy. Some actually claim to slow macular degeneration and restore eyesight. Some do slow down the process; however, there’s no evidence that they reverse the process. If you have macular degeneration, however, you may need a precise combination of vitamins and minerals to slow down the process (see Age-Related Macular Degeneration). These specialized products can be expensive.

Without spending a lot of money, you can most likely find a less expensive multivitamin that contains the specific vitamins and minerals that are proven to help with eye health. Several of the vitamins and minerals work best when taken together. Take a look at the following list of nutrients that help promote eye health, especially as you age. Compare your current multivitamins with this list to see if these nutrients are included, and then decide what you need to boost your eye health regimen.

Vitamin A, Beta Carotene, Zinc

One of the easiest vitamins to get is vitamin A. Just think colorful fruits and vegetables, much like a rainbow, and you’ve got it. This vitamin helps remove toxins from your entire body, including your eyes. It also helps your body resist damage from ultraviolet (UV) rays.

food in supplementsWhen you take vitamin A, it’s essential that your body has a good supply of beta carotene and zinc, along with some fat, to absorb it and put it to work. Zinc brings Vitamin A stored in the liver to our retinas. If you have a deficiency of vitamin A, you can have trouble seeing at night, and if it is severe enough, you can go blind altogether. Consult your doctor or health professional before taking a zinc supplement as too much zinc can cause damage to the eyes.

You can get Vitamin A from dairy products, egg yolks, and liver, as well as from foods containing beta‐carotene, which is converted in the small intestine to retinol, a form of Vitamin A. The foods with beta‐carotene are fruits and vegetables that are deep orange or yellow (e.g., cantaloupe, mangos, apricots, peaches, sweet potatoes, squash, and carrots).[4]

The foods that contain zinc are beef, pork, lamb, oysters, eggs, shellfish, yogurt, peanuts, 100% whole grains, and wheat germ.

Vitamin C

vegetable arrayVitamin C can help you protect the health of your eye, as this vitamin promotes healthy capillaries in the retina and builds collagen. Vitamin C is water soluble, so it does not stay in your body. Nor can your body produce vitamin C, so you must get it from foods and supplements. Most fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C: yellow bell peppers, guavas, kiwifruit (green), citrus fruits (orange, grapefruit, lemon, clementine), berries (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries), papaya, mango, pineapple, melons (cantaloupe and honeydew), peas (mange tout and green), kale, broccoli, and tomatoes.

Vitamin E, Selenium

The best duo for fighting the onset of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts is vitamin E and selenium. It must be taken with fat to be absorbed by the body. Vitamin E widens blood vessels and helps fight bacteria. Taking selenium with the vitamin E helps your body absorb it and use it more effectively. Look for it in plant oils (wheat germ and olive oil), nuts and seeds (almonds and hazelnuts, pine nuts, and sunflower seeds), wheat germ, and sunflower seeds – and to a lesser extent dark leafy greens and broccoli, avocados, and spirulina seaweed (dried).

Lutein, Zeaxanthin

These two nutrients team up specifically to protect the eyes against diseases caused by macular degeneration. Lutein and zeaxanthin are naturally found in our eyes as a defense against ultraviolet light (UV). These two nutrients work together to filter out damaging UV by acting as antioxidants in the eye to protect and maintain healthy cells. Because these nutrients diminish over time, we need to eat foods and take supplements that will help us replenish them. Don’t forget to wear sunglasses with UV protection to protect your eyes from the sun’s damaging rays. The best natural food sources of lutein and zeaxanthin are green leafy vegetables and other green or deep yellow vegetables (like corn, orange bell peppers, broccoli, collard greens, asparagus, and spinach).

Omega‐3 Fatty Acids

Don’t eat fat, right? It’s supposedly a truism that we’ve heard many times over the years. But is it true? Well, no. It turns out there are different kinds of fat – some good, some bad. The fat used to make fried foods is almost always bad. Omega-3, the good kind, helps us to absorb vitamins, especially Vitamin A and E which are good for the eyes.

Specifically, the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are thought to be important in preventing macular degeneration. These fatty acids help protect the retina by reducing oxidative stress, inflammation, and vascularization.[5] DHA is a vital fatty acid that is present in large amounts in the retina.[6]

The good fat (omega‐3 fatty acids) are found in oily fish like salmon (wild), tuna, herring, and trout. You should eat at least two or three servings a week.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Age-related vision loss is certainly a concern. It is best if you take preventative measures before eye damage occurs. Doing so will help ensure that you will have the best possible protection against the harmful effects of cell aging and damage. According to several studies, researchers found that you should boost your current multivitamin regimen levels well above the recommended daily allowances for the following nutrients to give yourself the eye health advantage you deserve:[7],[8],[9],[10]

  • Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) – 500 mg
  • Vitamin E (dl-α-tocopheryl acetate) – 400 IU
  • Zinc (zinc oxide) – 80 mg
  • Copper (cupric oxide) – 2 mg
  • Lutein – 10 mg/daily
  • Zeaxanthin – 2 mg/daily

If you already have macular degeneration, you may be able to slow the progression of the disease by taking a special nutrient supplement called the AREDS2 formula, developed as a result of the AREDS2 research. The formula includes all the supplements listed.

Before stocking up on these supplements, talk with your ophthalmologist to learn if they are right for you. Not everyone can take large doses of antioxidants or zinc for medical reasons.

A Word about Safety

display of multiple supplementsYou can’t just assume that any vitamin is safe. There are no uniform manufacturing rules for supplements so a multivitamin may not contain what the bottle claims. Additionally, it could be contaminated with something from the manufacturing plant, or it might have tainted ingredients. ConsumerLab’s, for example, found that more than half of the 21 multivitamins it tested had too much (or too little) of certain vitamins—or had been contaminated with dangerous substances like lead.

Before you buy, check the label for a quality seal or third-party certification, like “USP” (United States Pharmacopeia), “NSF” (NSF International), or “Consumer Lab” (ConsumerLab.com). Third-party certifications on the label indicate that the contents have undergone rigorous third-party testing to ensure that the ingredients meet quality standards. These certifications also mean that the bottle actually contains the ingredients listed on the label.

References:

[1] Rasmussen, HM; Johnson, EJ. Nutrients for the aging eye. Clinical Interventions in Aging 2013:8 741–748
[2] Rasmussen, HM; Johnson, EJ. Nutrients for the aging eye. Clinical Interventions in Aging 2013:8 741–748
[3] Ocular Nutrition Society. Baby boomers value vision more than any other sense but lack focus on eye health. 2011. Available from: http://www.ocularnutritionsociety.org/boomers. Accessed September 21, 2012.
[4] http://www.museumofvision.org/dynamic/files/uploaded_files_filename_75.pdf
[5] SanGiovanni JP, Chew EY. The role of omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in health and disease of the retina. Prog Retin Eye Res. 2005;24:87–138.
[6] Fliesler SJ, Anderson RE. Chemistry and metabolism of lipids in the vertebrate retina. Prog Lipid Res. 1983;22:79–131.
[7] Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group. A randomized, placebo-controlled, clinical trial of high-dose supplementation with vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and zinc for age-related macular degeneration and vision loss: AREDS report no 8. Arch Ophthalmol. 2001;119:1417–1436. Erratum in Arch Ophthalmol. 2008;126:1251.
[8] Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group, SanGiovanni JP, Chew EY, et al. The relationship of dietary carotenoid and vitamin A, E and C intake with age-related macular degeneration in a case-control study: AREDS report no 22. Arch Ophthalmol. 2007;125:1225–1232.
[9] Sangiovanni JP, Agrón E, Meleth AD, et al. ω-3 Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid intake and 12-y incidence of neovascular age-related macular degeneration and central geographic atrophy: AREDS report 30, a prospective cohort study from the Age-Related Eye Disease Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;90:1601–1607.
[10] Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group. A randomized, placebo-controlled, clinical trial of high-dose supplementation with vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and zinc for age-related macular degeneration and vision loss: AREDS report no. 8. Arch Ophthalmol. 2001 Oct;119(10):1417-36.

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