Research has shown nutrients found in certain foods including vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, lutein and zeaxanthin, are helpful in stopping the advances of certain eye diseases. Adding specific nutrients to one’s diet through foods or supplements can help improve overall health and potentially prevent vision loss, especially in individuals diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Eye Health Nutrition Tips
A diet high in saturated fat and sugar may increase the risk of eye disease. People who eat fruits, greens, and other foods rich in vitamins, minerals, healthy proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, and lutein may decrease their risk of diabetes, AMD, and cataract. Moreover, these foods are good for cardiovascular health and may reduce the risk of some types of cancer.
collard greens, mustard greens, spinach, and squash: These veggies are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin. A recent British study found people with the highest amount of lutein in their blood, from eating a diet high in lutein, had the lowest risk for posterior subcapsular cataracts.
and brussels sprouts: These super foods are rich in nearly all the antioxidants found in eye supplements: vitamin A, lutein, zeaxanthin, beta-carotene, and vitamins C and E. These antioxidants help protect cells in the eye (especially the retina) from free radicals, a type of unstable molecule that breaks down healthy tissue.
pork, chicken, and turkey (both dark and breast meat), seafood, eggs, wheat germ, mixed nuts, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, lentils, and tofu: Studies show people already experiencing the early stages of AMD may benefit from increased zinc intake. Too high doses can cause intestinal distress and interfere with copper absorption.
This super fruit is packed with nutritious vitamins and minerals for eye health. Blueberries contain vitamins C and E, zinc, and anthocyanins (flavonoid pigments with antioxidant benefits). In addition to promoting similar health benefits as other antioxidants, anthocyanins are good for general eye health and may reduce inflammatory eye disease (e.g. diabetic retinopathy).
The zinc in an egg helps the body absorb lutein and zeaxanthin from the yolk. The yellow-orange color of these compounds blocks harmful blue light from damaging the retina and increases protective pigment in the macula, the part of the eye controlling central vision damaged in AMD.
sunflower seeds, peanuts and peanut butter: Major studies found vitamin E, in combination with other nutrients, slowed down the advance of AMD and associated vision loss.
sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, mangos, and apricots: Perhaps you were told as a child “rabbits never wear glasses” to get you to eat your carrots. While carrots aren’t magical, they are rich in vitamin A, which is important for retinal metabolism and night vision. One sweet potato also has more than 50% of the daily recommended dose of vitamin C and trace vitamin E.
flaxseed oil, walnuts and canola oil: The omega-3 essential fatty acids found in these foods may help prevent dry eye and possibly cataract. Fatty fish like wild-caught salmon, tuna, and trout are optimal choices. Research shows omega-3 fatty acids are important for proper visual development and retinal function.
raw red and orange peppers, bok choy, cauliflower, papayas, and strawberries: Scientific evidence suggests vitamin C lowers the risk of cataract. In combination with other essential nutrients, the C vitamin slows the progression of AMD and visual acuity loss.
If your diet is missing key daily vitamins or nutrients, you have been diagnosed with AMD, or with a vitamin deficiency increasing disease risk, your doctor may recommend taking supplements. Otherwise, eating a healthy diet with the above mentioned foods can help you maintain good eye health.
AMD Supplement Research
Two major studies, Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) and AREDS2 studied the potential benefits of supplementation for reducing the risk of advanced AMD and preventing cataract. In the first study, an AREDS supplement with vitamin C (500 mg), vitamin E (400 IU), beta-carotene (15 mg), and zinc oxide (80 mg) reduced the risk of advanced AMD by 25%.
In AREDS2, researchers compared the efficacy of a supplement with lutein (10 mg) zeaxanthin (2 mg), zinc (25 mg), and omega-3 fatty acids (1000 mg: 350 mg DHA, 650 mg EPA) without beta-carotene to a supplement including beta-carotene. The addition of DHA/EPA or lutein/zeaxanthin to the original formulation (with beta-carotene) reduced the risk by about 25%, with no added benefit. The supplement without beta-carotene resulted in a slight reduction in risk compared to the one with beta-carotene. In individuals with very low levels of lutein/zeaxanthin in their diet, taking the AREDS formulation lowered the risk of advanced AMD. The supplement with beta-carotene was associated with a higher incidence of lung cancer in former smokers. None of the supplements prevented AMD in participants with no sign of the disease at study onset and supplementation was also not associated with a reduced risk of cataract in either study.
Cataract Supplement Research
Other research studies suggest the antioxidant properties of vitamins C and E may protect against the development and progression of cataracts. The five-year follow-up to the Beaver Dam Eye Study showed taking supplements with vitamins C and E reduced the risk of nuclear and cortical cataracts. Although AREDS did not show efficacy in preventing cataracts, several studies suggested lutein and zeaxanthin may be beneficial. The Beaver Dam Eye Study showed people with the highest intakes of lutein and zeaxanthin had a significantly lower risk of developing new cataracts compared to those with the lowest intakes.