Your eyesight is probably the most important of your five senses. Eye health goes hand-in-hand with general health, but there are a few nutrients that are especially important for the eyes. These nutrients help maintain eye function, protect the eyes against harmful light and reduce the development of age-related degenerative diseases. This article lists the main nutrients that will maximize your eye health, their dietary sources and potential benefits.
Overview of Common Eye Diseases
Your risk of developing an eye disease increases as you get older. The most common eye diseases include:
- Cataracts: A condition in which the eye becomes clouded. Age-related cataracts are a leading cause of vision impairment and blindness around the world.
- Diabetic retinopathy: Associated with diabetes and a major cause of visual impairment and blindness, this condition develops when high blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels in the retina.
- Dry eye disease: A condition marked by insufficient tear fluid, which causes the eyes to dry up and leads to discomfort and potential visual problems.
- Glaucoma: A group of diseases characterized by progressive degeneration of the optic nerve, which transfers visual information from the eyes to the brain. It leads to poor eyesight or blindness.
- Macular degeneration: The macula is the central part of the retina. Age-related macular degeneration is one of the main causes of blindness in developed countries.
Although your risk of getting these conditions depends to some extent on your genes, your diet may also play a major role.
1. Vitamin A
Vitamin A deficiency is one of the most common causes of blindness in the world. This vitamin is essential for maintaining the eyes’ light-sensing cells, also known as photoreceptors. If you don’t consume enough vitamin A, you may experience night blindness, dry eyes or more serious eye diseases, depending on how severe your deficiency is. Vitamin A is only found in animal-derived foods. The richest dietary sources include liver, egg yolks and dairy products.
However, you can also get vitamin A from some fruits and vegetables. The most high amounts in are in kale, spinach and carrots.
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are important for eye health. DHA is found in high amounts in the retina, where it may help maintain eye function. It is also important for brain and eye development during infancy. For this reason, DHA deficiency can impair vision, especially in children. Evidence also shows that taking omega-3 supplements may benefit those with dry eye disease. Dry eye disease occurs when the eyes don’t form enough tear fluid. This causes the eyes to become excessively dry, leading to discomfort and visual problems.
3. Vitamin C
The eyes require high amounts of antioxidants — more so than many other organs. The antioxidant Vitamin C appears to be especially important, although controlled studies on its role in eye health are lacking. The concentration of Vitamin C is higher in the aqueous humor of the eye than in any other body fluid. The aqueous humor is the liquid that fills the outermost part of the eye.
You can increase its concentration by taking supplements or eating foods rich in vitamin. Observational studies show that people with cataracts tend to have a low antioxidant status. They’ve also found that people who take Vitamin C supplements are less likely to get cataract. Vitamin C appears to play a protective role in the eyes, but it is unclear if Vitamin C supplements provide added benefits for those who aren’t deficient. High amounts of Vitamin C are found in many fruits and vegetables, including bell peppers, citrus fruits, guavas, kale and broccoli.
4. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a group of antioxidants that protect fatty acids from harmful processing. Since the retina is highly concentrated in fatty acids, adequate Vitamin E intake is important for optimal eye health. The best dietary sources of Vitamin E include almonds, sunflower seeds and vegetable oils, such as flaxseed oil.
The eyes contain high levels of zinc. Zinc is a part of many essential enzymes which function as an antioxidant. Natural dietary sources that are abundant in zinc include oysters, meat, pumpkin seeds and peanuts.
Take Home Message
Many chronic diseases are preventable. You can avoid or delay them by following healthy lifestyle habits, such as a wholesome diet and regular exercise. Getting enough of the nutrients listed in this article may help reduce your risk.