Essential Nutrients for Eye Health
Eyesight is a critical sense, and eye health should be a major concern, especially since your risk of developing an eye disease increases with advancing age. Other significant determinants of your risk of developing eye disease may include genetics, lifestyle, and chronic diseases (e.g., high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and thyroid disease). Common eye diseases include cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and dry eyes—all of which are major causes of visual impairment and blindness worldwide. Most people have no clue as to what is good for our eyes beyond eating carrots. What nutrients are the keys to eye health? The following is a list of the top 10 essential eye nutrients:
Lutein and Zeaxanthin
Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids, a family of powerful antioxidants that gives rise to the vibrant hues found in fruits and vegetables. Along with meso-zeaxanthin (another carotenoid), lutein and zeaxanthin are found in abundance in the macula of the human eye, which is responsible for sharp, color vision. The macula makes up the central portion of the retina, a layer of light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye. As a result, lutein and zeaxanthin are sometimes referred to as macular pigments, which protect your eyes from harmful environmental stressors. There is scientific evidence that the combination of both carotenoids may lower the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts. Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, broccoli, and collard greens as well as egg yolks, corn, and grapes are excellent dietary sources of lutein and zeaxanthin.
Vitamin A is produced from beta-carotene (also a carotenoid) and is vital for eye health. It is a powerful antioxidant that helps your eyes adjust to changes in brightness and helps maintain eye moisture levels. Vitamin A is only found in animal-derived foods, but our bodies can convert plant-derived precursors such as beta-carotene into vitamin A. There is mounting scientific evidence that regular, sustained vitamin A intake may reduce the risk of eye diseases such as macular degeneration and cataracts. Conversely, a deficiency of vitamin A can lead to night blindness and dry eyes. Carrots, sweet potatoes, and pumpkins, as well as spinach, kale, eggs, and milk, are wonderful sources of vitamin A.
Vitamin C, another antioxidant, has many well-known health benefits. It is more than a cold remedy and is crucial to eye health. Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) protects the eyes from destructive chemicals and toxins in the environment. Low levels of vitamin C may lead to a condition called scurvy. There is scientific evidence that vitamin C may reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration and cataracts as well as glaucoma. Citrus fruits (e.g., oranges, papaya, and grapefruits), as well as strawberries, kale, and green bell peppers, are great sources of dietary vitamin C.
Vitamin E in conjunction with the other antioxidant vitamins (A and C) helps to ensure the health of cells and tissues such as the eye. It works to prevent harmful chemical reactions in the retina and lens of your eye. Low levels of vitamin E, although rare, may lead to difficulties in eye movement, visual degeneration, and blindness. Vitamin E alone may protect against the development of cataracts. Additionally, there is scientific evidence that vitamin E when combined with carotenoids (e.g., lutein, zeaxanthin, and vitamin A) and vitamin C may reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration. Wheat germ oil is perhaps the richest source of vitamin E. Other first-rate dietary sources of vitamin E are nuts (e.g., almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, and pecans), seeds (e.g. sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin), avocados, and vegetable oils.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have a host of health benefits including fighting inflammation, lowering blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and preventing eye damage. There are two major types of omega-3 fatty acids—EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)—that are important for eye health. Omega-3 fatty acids boost your vision and keep it bright and sharp as well as provide natural eye lubrication. Clinical studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration, as much as a 60% reduction in some cases. The best dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids are oily fish (e.g., salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines). You should shoot for at least 2 serving of fish per week to boost eye health. Other dietary sources of these fatty acids include nuts and seeds (e.g., walnuts and flaxseeds).
Zinc, an essential trace mineral, is involved in well over 100 metabolic processes. It is crucial to eye health and helps the body convert plant-derived beta-carotene into vitamin A. As a result, deficiencies of zinc may lead to night blindness. Zinc is also implicated in the formation of macular pigments. It is not a coincidence that the retina (specifically the macula) contains the largest concentration of zinc in your body. There is preliminary scientific evidence that zinc may decrease the risk of developing macular degeneration. Just 2 oysters can provide you with enough zinc for a day (8 to 11 mg for adults). Other superb dietary sources for this trace mineral include eggs, crab, lobster, peanuts, and grass-fed beef.
Anthocyanins, non-vitamin antioxidants, are another nutrient playing an integral role in eye health. They belong to a group of substances referred to as the flavonoids, a diverse group of plant substances responsible for the vivid colors found in fruits and vegetables. Anthocyanins protect your retina and are prized for their anti-inflammatory properties. There is scientific evidence that anthocyanins may reduce the risk of developing cataracts and macular degeneration. Dietary sources of anthocyanins include berries (e.g., blueberries, bilberries, and raspberries), cherries, red cabbage, and eggplant (mostly in the skin).
Contrary to popular belief, the benefits of vitamin D (in combination with calcium) go beyond bone health, making it an important nutrient for your eye health. It is the only vitamin manufactured with help of sunlight. A chronic lack of vitamin D may lead to blurry vision and vision loss. There is recent preliminary scientific data that vitamin D may protect against the onset of macular degeneration as well as dry eyes. The best natural source of vitamin D is sun exposure, and scientists estimate our daily needs for vitamin D could be met with anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes of exposure in the summer months to almost 2 hours of exposure in the winter months. Notable dietary sources of vitamin D include some fish (e.g., salmon and sardines) and fortified milk, cereals, and juices.
Selenium, another essential trace mineral, not only boosts your immune system but also helps you absorb vitamin E, making it critical to eye health. It protects the retina and lens from damage due to harmful chemicals and toxins. Low levels of selenium share an association with cataracts. There is scientific evidence that selenium combined with carotenoids (lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene) and vitamins C and E may decrease the risk of developing macular degeneration. Taking both selenium (200 micrograms) and zinc (30 mg) may protect your eyes from glaucoma.
Selenium has also been shown to slow the progression of eye symptoms related to Graves’ disease, an autoimmune condition affecting the thyroid. Good dietary sources of selenium include Brazil nuts, seafood (e.g., shrimp, crab, halibut and tuna), ham, turkey, garlic, cottage cheese, brown rice, and spinach.
If you’re in your late 50s to early 60s and have a family history of a specific eye disease such as cataracts, macular degeneration, or glaucoma you should ask your doctor about Lumega-Z® for the maintenance of eye health. Lumega-Z® is the only vision-specific medical food that is neither a dietary supplement nor a prescription drug and has been created to replenish, restore, and maintain all three protective macular pigments (lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin). Lumega-Z® also contains more than 35 micronutrients with potent antioxidant properties including vitamins C, D, and E; bilberry extract (an anthocyanin); and the essential trace minerals zinc and selenium. Additionally, Lumega-Z® can be combined with an omega-3 DHA concentrate (“Omega Boost—DHA Concentrate”) to fully optimize your potential for eye health.