nutrition eye health

Did you know that your overall health can determine the health of your eyes? By eating the right nutrients, and nutrients specifically intended to benefit your eyes, you can protect against eye-related diseases and conditions and preserve the integrity of your eyes.

Common age-related eye diseases

Before delving into the nutrients and supplements that can help improve eyesight and prolong the contraction of certain eye diseases that typically occur as we age, it is important to understand what some of the common eye diseases are.

Glaucoma

A disorder that mostly affects peripheral vision, glaucoma is caused by excessive pressure in the eye and, if left untreated, can damage the eye’s optic nerve, which can result in loss of vision or blindness. In “How vision changes as you age,” Dr. Gary Heiting says the danger of getting glaucoma increases every decade after 40.

Cataracts

Cataracts are perhaps the most common age-related eye disease, affecting over 24 million Americans. They are so common that by the time a person in the United States reaches 80 years old, they will either have cataracts or have undergone cataract surgery. A cataract is the clouding of the lens of the eye and when a cataract develops, vision can become blurry and colors can appear dull.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is another common eye disease that develops as you age and it is the number cause of vision loss in people 50 years old and older. When AMD occurs, people experience vision loss in the macula, located in the center of the retina. The result is a blind spot directly in the center of your vision.

Dry eyes

Dry eyes can affect anyone at any age and occurs when the eyes cannot produce enough tears or the tears that are produced evaporate rapidly. Dry eyes are especially cumbersome for people who work at a computer for prolonged periods of time or who perform close work.

Presbyopia

According to Gretchen Bailey with the help of Dr. Vance Thomspson in the blog post, Presbyopia: What causes it and how to treat it, presbyopia begins to occur around age 40 and is the decreased ability to focus on things close-up. It is a normal part of the aging process, affecting 2 billion people.

Diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy, as the name implies, impacts people dealing with diabetes. It can occur when elevated blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels located in the retina. The result is swelling of those blood vessels which can then leak or close, cutting off blood flow. The end result in either case is vision loss.  

Natural ways to preserve eye health

Now onto the ways you can preserve the integrity of your eyes through nutrition, whether that be directly through the foods you eat or by taking a supplement designed specifically to help keep your eyesight in top condition for as long as possible.

Beta-carotene

You’ve probably been told at one time or another to eat your carrots because they’ll help your eyesight. It’s true, beta-carotene found in carrots, especially when eaten in combination with other vitamins and minerals like vitamin C and zinc, can reduce the risk of AMD. Other foods containing beta-carotene include:

  • kale
  • spinach
  • sweet potatoes
  • cantaloupe
  • broccoli
  • squash
  • apricots
  • peas

Lutein and zeaxanthin

Lutein and zeaxanthin are two carotenoid antioxidants that are yellow pigment found in the macula of the retina. They work to prevent cataracts and AMD by guarding against free radicals and the absorption of excessive blue light in the eye. Blue-light damage can cause oxidative stress, a leading factor in getting AMD.   

In addition to being present in the eye, they are also found in:

  • kale
  • pistachios
  • parsley
  • sweet corn
  • peas
  • red grapes
  • parsley

Two of the best sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, however, are egg yolks and spinach. Dr. Alti Arnarson says in his blog post, 8 Nutrients That Will Optimize Your Eye Health, these two antioxidants are “better absorbed when eaten with fat, so it’s best to add some avocado or healthy oils to your leafy vegetable salad.”

Vitamin C

Vitamin C, another antioxidant, is found in fruits like oranges, pineapple, berries, and cantaloupe and can help stave off cataracts, especially when eaten in accordance with other nutrients on this list like zinc and beta-carotene.

Zinc

The mineral zinc plays a vital role in helping to maintain the health of your eyes. It is largely responsible for the transport of vitamin A from the liver to the retina of the eye where it produces melanin, the pigment that protects your eyes. Zinc can also prevent night-blindness and slow the effects of AMD. Zinc is found in shellfish, red meat, nuts, and seeds.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are an excellent food source to help boost immunity, fortify the nervous system, and help preserve your eye health. Omega-3 fatty acids have proved especially beneficial for those with dry eyes and diabetic retinopathy. They are commonly found in oily fish like:

  • salmon
  • mackerel
  • sardines
  • caviar
  • anchovies
  • cod liver oil

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is an antioxidant, a powerhouse fighter within the body, provided you’re getting enough in your diet. Vitamin A preserves things like the barrier of the skin and surface of the eyes to ward off bacteria and infections.

Vitamin A can also prevent blindness, especially night blindness. Eye drops containing vitamin A alleviates symptoms of dry eyes. Getting enough vitamin A, either through diet or in supplement form, can prolong vision loss associated with AMD. The best source of vitamin A is liver, however, it is also found in:

  • sweet potato
  • carrots
  • spinach
  • sweet red pepper
  • broccoli
  • mango
  • cantaloupe
  • pumpkin
  • kale

Eye supplements

The best way to get all your necessary daily nutrients is through the foods you eat, however, that is not always feasible. Therefore, a supplement, specifically designed to promote eye health, may be in order. The ingredients to look for when choosing a high-quality eye supplement include all the nutrients mentioned in this article, as well as:

  • Vitamin E – decrease the risk of cataracts
  • Vitamin D – helps reduce the risk of AMD
  • Vitamin B complex – alleviate inflammation, reduce of AMD, and prevents vascular problems associated with the retina
  • Bioflavonoids – help absorb vitamin C
  • Phytochemicals – reduce oxidative stress

Additionally, look for supplements in capsule form rather than hard pill form, as they’ll be better absorbed by the body, as will ingredients with more bioavailability. Try to avoid supplements containing common allergens like soy, wheat, and dairy.

Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, and seeds will not only benefit your health overall, but will help keep your eyes functioning properly for years to come.

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Written by Michael Healy
Michael is a writer, consultant, editor, and educator with advanced degrees in health science, education, and educational policy and public administration.