What vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids are best for your eye health?
It is vital to take good care of your eyes throughout life to maintain good vision. Our eyes need a number of different vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids that are important for cellular function and for protecting against oxidative stress. In this article, you can read more about vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, B vitamins, zinc, selenium, omega-3 fatty acids, and Q10 and their vital role in maintaining healthy vision. We will also look at certain antioxidants that are found in eggs, salmon, spinach, broccoli, red bell pepper, and blueberries.
The human eye is a very complicated structure that is designed to focus incoming light rays on the retinal cells. Afterwards, the light rays are converted into electric impulses that are carried to the brain’s vision center. Light is primarily broken down in the cornea, while the pupil regulates how much light enters the eye.
Our vision consists of the central vision, peripheral vision, color vision, and twilight vision. Good vision requires all the different vision types to be intact. As we grow older, our ability to focus up close starts to diminish. At some point, we need reading glasses.
Dry eyes can make it difficult to read or wear lenses, and the condition may lower our tolerance towards tobacco smoke and air-conditioning.
Specific eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic eye disease (retinopathy) are the leading causes of vision loss and blindness in adults and the risk increases with age.
AMD is a disease that affects your central vision or macula, also known as the yellow spot.
Glaucoma causes abnormally high pressure in your eyeball.
Cataracts causes clouding of the otherwise clear eye lens.
Eye diseases caused by local circulatory disturbances are also quite common and include diseases like NAION (non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy) and RAO (retinal artery occlusion).
Studies suggest that certain vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and Q10 can protect against these eye diseases or delay their development. In connection with many eye diseases, it may be an advantage to take higher doses of different nutrients to delay the disease progression.
- Around 250 million people worldwide are believed to suffer from eye disease
- Lack of nutrients plus oxidative stress play a major role
- Oxidative stress is an imbalance between potentially harmful free radicals and protective antioxidants
- Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that can damage blood vessels, cells, lipids, and proteins in the eye and other places
- Ageing processes, poisoning, tobacco smoke, overweight, diabetes, and chronic inflammation increase the free radical burden and the risk of oxidative stress.
Vitamin A and beta-carotene
Vitamin A is of vital importance to our eyesight. It is a constituent of a protein called rhodopsin that enables us to see in dim light. Vitamin A is also essential for the cornea, which is the transparent membrane that covers the iris and the pupil.
Also, vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant that protects the eyes against oxidative stress. Lack of vitamin A can result in night blindness, dry eyes, and conjunctivitis, and it is believed that every year, hundreds of thousands of children, especially in places like Africa and Asia, lose their eyesight due to being vitamin A-deficient. Supplementation with vitamin A (as beta-carotene) and other antioxidants has shown to have a positive effect on glaucoma and AMD, according to, among other things, a review article published in Nutrients in 2018 plus AREDS Report no. 8 from 2001.
Pure vitamin A (retinol) is found in animal food sources such as cod liver oil, liver, liver pate, egg yolks, butter and other high-fat dairy products.
Beta-carotene, a precursor of retinol, is found in vegetable food sources such as carrots, sweet potatoes, parsley, kale, spinach, tomatoes, bell pepper, and melon.
The body is able to convert beta-carotene into pure vitamin A (retinol).
You can get too much vitamin A, whereas beta-carotene is a safer source that we can consume in larger doses without problems (in fact, many studies are carried out with beta-carotene).
- Carrots are believed to be good for the eyes, and that is due to their content of beta-carotene.
Vitamin E in the form of alpha tocopherol is a powerful antioxidant that protects the eyes against free radicals. Free radicals have the potential to damage proteins and lipids in the eyes, which can result in lens opacities and cataracts.
A review article from 2014 shows that people who took supplements of vitamin A had clearer eye lenses. If you want to prevent cataracts you must also make sure to get plenty of the other nutrients. Vitamin E is lipid-soluble and is found in cod liver oil, plant oils, nuts, kernels, seeds, wholegrains, avocado, and cabbage.
- Lipid-soluble antioxidants like vitamin A and vitamin E plus water-soluble antioxidants such as vitamin C and beta-carotene protect our eyes against oxidative stress in different ways.
Vitamin C is important for our ability to synthesize collagen, it is important for our circulatory system, and it is a powerful antioxidant. In a population study from 2014, scientists looked at different factors that can prevent the onset of cataracts. The study was carried out on 1,000 female twin pairs. At baseline, the participants were screened for cataracts. Afterwards, the scientists assessed the participants’ intake of vitamin C and other nutrients over a period of 10 years. At the end of the study, the scientists looked at the severity of cataracts in 324 twin pairs and found that those who had consumed the most vitamin C had clearer eye lenses and 33 percent lower cataract development compared with those who had not consumed that much vitamin C.
Studies have also shown that vitamin C can slow down the development of AMD by strengthening the blood vessels in the eyes that carry blood and nutrients to the cornea. Moreover, vitamin C protects the macula due to its effect as an antioxidant.
Broccoli and various types of cabbage, red bell pepper, citrus fruits and other types of fruit, and berries are all good sources of vitamin C. Several studies show that people with eye diseases should get up to 500 mg of vitamin C daily as a minimum for an optimal impact on eye health.
B vitamins are water-soluble and work together in the body as a team. B vitamins support most of the enzyme processes in the body, with some B vitamins having more dominant roles than others.
Mice that are genetically predisposed to glaucoma can avoid this eye disease by having vitamin B3 added to their drinking water, according to a study from 2017.
Scientists claim that vitamin B3 can eliminate the molecular changes that happen in connection with age-related glaucoma and therefore see this specific nutrient as having great potential in the prevention and treatment of the disease.
A large population study from South Korea (2018) found a link between reduced vitamin B3 (niacin) intake and cataracts.
And a study from 2009 that was carried out on women with a risk of cardiovascular disease showed that daily supplementation with folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 lowered their risk of developing AMD. A study from 2000 (Blue Mountains Eye Study) looked at diets and the development of eye diseases in nearly 3,000 people aged 49-97 years. The scientists found that higher intake of protein, vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, and vitamin B3 was linked to lower rate of cataracts.
B vitamins are found in coarse greens. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal food sources. Stress, ageing processes, stimulants, and various types of medicine can increase your need for B vitamins.
Zinc is a trace element that is involved in over 300 different enzyme processes and supports the important antioxidant, SOD (superoxide dismutase). Zinc is important for the retina, the cell membranes, and the protein structures in the eye. Zinc is also needed to help vitamin A move from the liver to the retina where it produces melanin. Melanin is a pigment that protects the eyes and skin against UV rays from sunlight.
High-dosed supplementation with zinc and other antioxidants may help those with AMD or people with a risk of developing the disease.
We get zinc from oysters and other types of shellfish, meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, nuts, kernels, and beans.
Zinc from animal sources is easier for the body to absorb.
Zinc deficiency is normally caused by unhealthy eating habits, lack of animal protein, and ageing. Other factors that may cause a zinc deficiency are excessive intake of iron and calcium, and heavy drinking. Diabetes, celiac disease, and a variety of different types of medicine may also increase your need for zinc.
Omega-3 fatty acids
The two omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, are important for the tear film and for keeping the eyes moist. They also protect local nerve pathways and the retina against damage and degeneration. The retina contains rather large amounts of EPA and DHA, and the two omega-3 fatty acids also support other physiological functions.
A team of scientists from Hokkaido University, Japan, has shown that omega-3 fatty acids have the potential to protect against dry eye and can repair damage. Omega-3 also prevents atherosclerosis, even in the small capillaries that carry blood and nutrients to the eyes.
Some scientists believe that fat deposits and atherosclerosis in these capillaries contribute to the development of AMD.
Oily fish from pure waters represents a good source of EPA and DHA.
Selenium supports over 25 different selenoproteins that are important for our thyroid function, inflammatory processes, and other functions. Selenium also supports important antioxidants such as GPX (glutathione peroxidase) that protects cells against oxidative stress. We get selenium from eggs, fish, offal, and Brazil nuts. The farmland in large parts of the world is selenium-depleted, so selenium deficiency is rather common.
Q10 is a coenzyme that it is involved in the energy turnover in cells. It is also a powerful antioxidant that protects cells against oxidative stress. Interestingly, Q10 is the only lipid-soluble antioxidant that is synthesized endogenously by the human body and is therefore extremely essential for protecting cells and tissues from oxidative stress. The body produces most of the Q10 it needs, but the endogenous production decreases with age. Cholesterol-lowering medicine inhibits the body’s Q10 synthesis. Lack of Q10 can increase the risk of age-related diseases, but high-quality Q10 supplements can compensate for the decreasing levels in the body.
The special antioxidants – lutein, zeaxanthin, and anthocyanins
Lutein and zeaxanthin are pigments that we have in our retina and macula. They both serve as antioxidants by protecting the eye against damage caused by UV-rays. Lutein and zeaxanthin are also known to lower the risk of developing AMD.
They are found in brightly colored foods like egg yolk, salmon, and fruits and vegetables (carrots, bell pepper, melon, spinach, broccoli, kale, and peas.)
Blueberries, blackberries, black currant, and other dark berries contain anthocyanins that are also colored pigments with antioxidant properties. According to a review article published in Journal of Functional Food, blue berries are good for your eyes and have a positive effect on AMD, diabetic eye disease, impaired night vision, and similar conditions. It is therefore a good idea to eat an egg every day and include a lot of colorful vegetables plus blueberries or other dark berries.
Supplementation with Q10 and other antioxidants in connection with other common eye diseases
We have previously published an article on this website about supplementation with Q10 and other antioxidants and how it can improve vision and the traditional treatment of eye diseases like NAION (non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy) and RAO (retinal artery occlusion) that are caused by local circulatory disturbances. You can read more about it here:
»Supplements with Q10 and other antioxidants for common eye diseases«
High-dosed nutritional supplements for the eye disease AMD
We have published an article on this website about how high-dosed supplementation with vitamin C vitamin E, beta-carotene, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, and zeaxanthin can lower the risk of advanced AMD by 25-38 percent. You can read more here:
»High-dosed supplementation for the eye disease, AMD«
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