You are what you eat. This isn’t just a folksy saying –it’s a biological fact of life. Your physical being, your own bodily matter, can only be made out of what you consume in your diet. Our eyes are a complex organ providing the most useful of our senses. When the eyes are tuned properly to the world around them, and of good health and function, they provide color vision, depth perception, motion detection, vision in both near-dark and bright environments, stereovision, and detailed visual acuity –and they accomplish these things nearly instantaneously. Surely an organ so finely tuned, and so important must have a unique fuel and nutritional requirements in order to function best.
There are a diverse number of nutrients that are required for healthy eyes and good vision. Nutritional requirements can vary through the lifespan. Most adults eating a balanced diet can obtain all of their necessary nutrients through the food they eat without supplementation or use of a multivitamin. If a patient’s diet is not as complete as it should be, a multivitamin can be a good option to provide the patient with a nearly complete allotment of vitamins and minerals. For those patients that have specific risks of disease, some supplements have been shown to benefit them over time. Macular degeneration is a great example of a disease that is thought to be prevented through use of dietary supplementation.
The following is brief list of nutrients that are crucial to our eye health and function:
Lutein and Zeaxanthin
Lutein and zeaxanthin are types of xanthophylls that are found in such vegetables as spinach, kale, and yellow carrots. It can also be found in eggs. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study showed that a dietary formulation containing lutein reduced macular degeneration progression by 25%. While it hasn’t been shown to prevent macular degeneration directly, high lutein intake has been associated with an increase in macular pigment optical density (MPOD) which can reduce the risk of patients acquiring macular degeneration over time. Some studies have shown that lutein also reduces the risk of cataract development.
A fellow xanthophyll like lutein, zeaxanthin is rarer in the typical diet. It is found in the macula in a 2:1 ratio to lutein. Zeaxanthin is found in paprika, bell peppers, corn, and such leafy greens as spinach, kale, and collard greens. For those patients seen by Vista Eye Care that have low macular pigment scores (low MPOD), we recommend a dietary supplement that increases macular pigment density. This increased macular pigmentation is thought to reduce the risk of macular degeneration.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are both important for eye health and function. Studies have shown that both EPA and DHA supplementation can help reduce symptoms of dry eye. DHA has been shown to assist eye function and development. Besides preventing eye dryness and assisting with eye development, omega-3 fatty acids have also been suggested to have cardiovascular benefits. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in cold water fish (such as herring, anchovies, mackerel, and salmon), as well as flaxseed and walnuts.
The light-sensing cells at the back of the eye at the retina are called “photoreceptors.” These photoreceptors depend on vitamin A to produce the chemical reactions that allow for the sense of vision. Deficiency in vitamin A can result in decreased night vision among other ailments. Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable childhood blindness according to UNICEF. Vitamin A is found in carrots, broccoli, kale, spinach, pumpkin, cheese, egg, and tomatoes among other foods.
This essential nutrient, also known as ascorbic acid, helps with repair of bodily tissues and has a strong role in our immune systems. As far as the eye is concerned, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that has a role in preventing cataract formation. Foods rich in vitamin C include guava, kale, broccoli, orange, pineapple, and blackberries.
Vitamin D is good for bones and teeth, though recent studies have suggested that this fat-soluble vitamin might also be protective against macular degeneration. While studies still need to be performed to confirm this relationship, vitamin D is also known to help prevent diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and several types of cancer. Vitamin D can be produced in our skin when exposed to sunlight, or obtained from animal food sources. Foods rich in vitamin D include mushrooms, salmon, tuna, sardines, and eggs.
This vitamin is a fat-soluble antioxidant that is concentrated in the retina. It has been suggested that vitamin E intake may slow the risk of macular degeneration, though studies haven’t definitively proven this yet. Severe vitamin E deficiency can lead to retinal disease and vision loss. Good food sources of vitamin E include nuts, peanut butter, avocados, spinach, broccoli, and soybeans.
Zinc is a chemical element found in Earth’s crust and is an essential mineral. Zinc is found in large concentrations in the eye and is involved in the formation of visual retinal pigments which allow for light perception. Zinc is a nutrient that has also been suggested to slow the progression of macular degeneration, though further research in this area is needed. Good sources of zinc include meat, seafood, peanuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, and pumpkin seeds.
AREDS 2 Formula Supplements
For those patients that have been diagnosed with macular degeneration, taking a nutritional supplement known as the “AREDS 2 formula” may slow progression of the disease. This formula includes:
- Vitamin C (500 mg)
- Vitamin E (400 IU)
- Lutein (10 mg)
- Zeaxanthin (2 mg)
- Zinc oxide (80 mg)
- Copper oxide (2 mg)
It is important to consult your physician before taking any nutritional supplements. Those patients with food sensitivities, or those that smoke cigarettes, will need special consideration before taking dietary supplements. Please call us today at (303) 450-2020 to schedule your annual comprehensive eye and vision examination, or use the button below to schedule your exam online: