Those of a certain age grew up hearing that good eyesight was a byproduct of eating carrots. For decades, studies have tried to confirm or put to rest that adage. Recent studies show that while not spot on, that idea was not too far from the truth.
Various research shows vitamin A, which is abundant in carrots, plays a significant part in eye health, as do vitamins C and E, along with a host of minerals and antioxidants. The facts about nutrition and eye health may not support eating heaps of carrots, but we can discover essential benefits when we link our eye health and nutrition.
What Vitamins are Crucial for Healthy Eyes?
Several vitamins are needed for proper eye function and overall eye health.
Vitamin A is vital to maintain your eyes’ light-sensing cells or photoreceptors. Additionally, a lack of vitamin A can lead to night blindness, dry eyes, or other severe ocular conditions can develop. Vitamin A deficiency is one of the top causes of blindness.
Vitamin A is abundant in several foods, including:
The aqueous humor (the clear liquid at the front of your eye) is highly concentrated with vitamin C. This antioxidant helps prevent the formation of cataracts. Vitamin C also can slow the progression of vision loss.
Foods with high amounts of vitamin C include:
In numerous age-related eye studies, vitamin E has proved to play a significant role in slowing macular degenerative disorders as well as cataracts. Severe vitamin E deficiency may lead to retinal degeneration and blindness.
Vitamin E is an extremely vital antioxidant that occurs naturally in various oils, nuts, and seeds, as well as fruits and vegetables, including:
Wheat germ oil
Sunflower, safflower, and soybean oil
Peanuts, peanut butter
Beet greens, collard greens, spinach
Red bell pepper
Lutein and Zeaxanthin
This pair of powerful antioxidants are found in high concentrations in the macula. They protect your eyes from the UV rays and harmful blue light that comes from the sun. These nutrients also play a significant part in slowing diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin occur naturally in green leafy vegetables and other healthy foods like:
Studies show that Lutein and Zeaxanthin are best absorbed when eaten with some form of fat.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids EPA and DHA
These Omega-3 Fatty Acids help ocular function. DHA is critical to ensure healthy brain and eye development. This is most crucial during infancy, as DHA deficiency can cause vision problems, especially in children. These Fatty Acids are helpful for dry eye sufferers as they increase the production of tears.
The best sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids are:
Oily fish such as herring, sardines, salmon, trout, tuna, swordfish, and mackerel
Dietary supplements that contain fish oil or microalgae
The mineral Zinc is concentrated in the retina and the vascular tissue layer that sits below the retina. One of Zinc’s leading roles is to deliver vitamin A from the liver to the retina, so melanin (a pigment in the eye that filters harmful light to protect our eyes) is made.
Research also suggests that a Zinc deficiency may cause night blindness. Zinc is plentiful in:
An Example of the Connection Between Nutrition and Eye Health
Cataracts are prevalent, especially as people age; fortunately, they are treatable with a typically highly successful surgery. However, in cases where the cataract surgery did not provide the expected outcome, dry eye was noted. This happens because the eye’s surface must be in perfect condition to get the best results.
Patients preparing for cataract surgery who have symptoms often receive treatments to improve dry eye. This results in an excellent surgical outcome. However, 60 per cent of the patients with dry eye had no symptoms.
Using Nutrition to Combat Dry Eye
Dry eye disease is an early indicator of a vitamin A deficiency, so ideally, asymptomatic patients should receive screenings before commencing with cataract surgery. A simpler alternative is to commit to eating a healthy diet rich in nutrients and vitamins like vitamin A and eliminate or reduce the occurrence of dry eye.
You depend on your eyes and do what you can to keep them healthy, but in some cases, you need to put more thought into strategies to keep your eyes in tip-top shape. No substitute or supplement can replace a healthy lifestyle.
If you would like more information about the link between nutrition and eye health, reach out to us at E Eye Place. We are happy to help you find the facts you need.
Stephanie is an owner optometrist, researcher and educator. She has held clinical, teaching and research roles in Australia and overseas, and has extensive training and clinical experience. Stephanie is also the head optometrist at E Eye Place, on top of this, she is also currently a PhD candidate at UNSW. Dr Stephanie Yeo Optometrist BOptom (HC1) GradCertOcTher DOPT (Merit) CO Ophthalmic Medicines Prescriber.