Vitamins for Healthy Eyes

By Dr. Patrick Aiello

It’s never too late to change old habits! By following a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables and whole grains, your eyes can benefit as well as your body.

What is a “healthy diet”? According to the United States Department of Agriculture Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, a healthful diet should include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, proteins (including seafood, lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans, peas, soy products and unsalted nuts and seeds), and oils.

Most commonly people associate the term “vitamins” with supplements that can be purchased at a local drug store. While supplements can help to fill nutritional gaps in a less than perfect diet, ideally the vitamins should come from the food itself.

It is no secret that Americans do not consume enough fruits and vegetables, opting instead for higher calorie and less healthy “fast food.” With that in mind, it has become common to take supplements to obtain the vitamins and minerals we need to maintain good health. It is important, however, to keep in mind that you should always speak to your doctor before taking vitamin supplements in order to avoid toxicity or medication reactions.

What vitamins promote good eye health? The following vitamins and minerals have been shown to play a key role in reducing the risk of and/or slowing the progress of many degenerative eye diseases and other chronic eye problems.

Vitamin A and Beta-carotene: Vitamin A, an antioxidant, helps to protect the surface of the eye and is necessary for good night vision. Vitamin A has also been effective in the treatment of dry eye syndrome. Research has revealed that when taken with other key vitamins and minerals, it can slow the progression of cataracts and decrease the risk of macular degeneration. Some food sources for vitamin A are beef or chicken liver, cod liver oil, eggs, butter and milk. Some food sources for beta-carotene are carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, and butternut squash. Beta-carotene, in a healthy person, is usually converted into a type of vitamin A in the small intestine.

Vitamin C: Vitamin C, an antioxidant, may reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Some food sources for vitamin C are oranges, cantaloupe, broccoli, tomatoes, kale, sweet peppers and strawberries.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D has been shown in many studies to reduce the risk of macular degeneration. Some food sources for vitamin D are salmon, sardines, mackerel, and milk.

Vitamin E: When combined with carotenoids and vitamin C, vitamin E may reduce the risk of advanced macular degeneration. Vitamin E has also been associated with reducing the risk of cataracts. Some food sources of vitamin E are almonds, sunflower seeds and hazelnuts.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin: Lutein and Zeaxanthin are carotenoids that may reduce the risk of both cataracts and macular degeneration. Lutein is responsible for filtering out dangerous UV rays from the sun. Some food sources of Lutein and Zeaxanthin are spinach, kale, turnip greens, collard greens and squash.

Selenium: When combined with carotenoids, vitamin C and vitamin E, selenium may reduce the risk of advanced macular degeneration. Some food sources for selenium are seafood, brazil nuts and brown rice.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids: These essential nutrients may decrease the risk of dry eyes and advanced macular degeneration. Some food sources of Omega 3 Fatty Acids are salmon, mackerel, herring, flaxseed oil and fish oil.

Bioflavonoids: Bioflavonoids help the body to absorb vitamin C and help increase antioxidant efficiency. Bioflavonoids may protect against cataracts and macular degeneration. Some food sources are tea, red wine, citrus fruits, blueberries, cherries and soy products.

Zinc: Zinc works with vitamin A and can help to increase good night vision, as well as to reduce the risk of macular degeneration. Zinc can be found in oysters, dark turkey meat, beef and liver.

There are many vitamin supplements on the market that pledge to improve one’s eye health and prevent degenerative eye disease. In some cases consuming too much of a specific vitamin can be dangerous. It is very important to talk with your eye care provider before starting supplements. Often times your eye care provider can recommend a specific supplement tailored to your specific needs, and may even be able to provide a sample.

Eating a good balanced diet and living a healthy lifestyle is always the best way to maintain optimal eye health. Live better to see better!

Patrick D. Aiello, M.D.

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Dr. Aiello completed his Residency in Ophthalmology at the world renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and is board certified in both Internal medicine and Ophthalmology. Dr. Aiello has lived in Arizona since 1992 and is regarded as one of the state’s leading eye surgeons. He specializes in cataract surgery and general ophthalmology and has performed more than 20,000 surgeries. His good nature, compassion and conservative practice style have earned him the respect and loyalty of both his colleagues and patients throughout his career.