Nourishing Foods for Eye Health | Supplements to Improve Vision
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Misbah Wasi

Functional Nutrition Specialist, Scientific & Regulatory Advisor for Health Supplements

Misbah Wasi is a seasoned professional in the field of Nutrition Science and Food Regulation for over 15 years. Currently, she is lendin her expertise in the area of Health Supplements and Nutraceuticals and is an active member of the Standards Review Group (SRG) - Nutraceuticals FSSAI Ms. Wasi is a post-graduate in Food and Nutrition. Certified Lead Food Safety Management Systems Auditor (FSMS, FSSC 22000) and a certified FoSTaC traine for Health Supplements and Nutraceuticals. She is also a Subject Matter Expert for ‘Food Regulations in India’ for IFLR (International Food Laws and Regulations) course at Michigan State University.

Eye on Nutrition: Nourishing foods for eye health

Eyes are precious windows to the world, and caring for them should be our top priority. While regular eye check-ups and proper eye protection are crucial, nutrition also plays a significant role in maintaining optimal eye health. It is one of the most important parts of the human body. However, compared to other organs, the eye is susceptible to oxidative damage due to exposure to light and high metabolism. Moreover, the recent increase in the amount of daily exposure to blue light emitting devices such as mobile phones, computers, laptops, and tablets, has resulted in a concurrent increase in various symptoms associated with eye fatigue, as well as musculoskeletal complaints involving the shoulders, neck, back, and headaches.

The symptoms of eye fatigue include ocular pain, dry eye sensation or excess tearing, and blurred vision, and these symptoms may impair visual health and the quality of vision. It is a common sight that individuals to use personal computers and smartphones, close to their eyes for long periods, and the eye muscles become fatigued and experience tension, making focus adjustment difficult. Further, it is extremely important to prevent and reduce ocular fatigue to improve the quality of life.

Diet is a key lifestyle factor that can have long-term effects on ocular health. Globally, approximately 250 million people suffer from varying degrees of vision loss. It has been observed that deficiency in particular vitamins and minerals may increase the risk of eye conditions, such as cataracts, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration. However, consumption of vitamin and mineral supplements (in case of diet inadequacy), may help protect against or slow the development of these conditions. Therefore, maintaining good eye health is crucial throughout life.  Recent literature indicates that nutrients important in vision health include vitamins and minerals with antioxidant functions {e.g., vitamins C and E, carotenoids (lutein, zeaxanthin, β-carotene), zinc}, and compounds with anti-inflammatory properties (omega-3 fatty acids (eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA], docosahexaenoic acid [DHA].

Key nutrients required for boosting eye health are as follows:

  1. Vitamins & Antioxidants

• Vitamin A and Beta-Carotene: Crucial for Good Night Vision

    Vitamin A is necessary for proper vision. It is a component of rhodopsin, a protein that allows the eye to see in dim light. Deficiency of vitamin A may lead to night blindness. It supports the function of the cornea, the eye's protective outer layer. Vitamin A deficiency may cause the eyes to produce insufficient fluid to remain moisturized. Beta carotene is the main source of vitamin A in the human diet. Beta carotene is a carotenoid, or plant pigment, found in a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. When a person consumes carotenoids, their bodies convert the pigments to vitamin A. People may add vitamin A to their diet through the consumption of potatoes, carrots, red peppers, and pumpkins.

     

    • Vitamin C: Protection against UV-induced Photodamage

      Vitamin C protects the eye from UV radiation damage. While the concentration of vitamin C in the eyes decreases with age, diet and supplementation can help offset this. Vitamin C also protects against oxidative damage. Oxidative damage plays a significant role in two of the most prevalent age-related cataracts: cortical and nuclear cataracts. Cortical cataracts form on the margins of the lens, whereas nuclear cataracts form deep within it. According to the study, people who drank more vitamin C had a lower chance of cataract advancement and generally clearer lenses. In addition, scientific evidence suggests vitamin C lowers the risk of developing cataracts and when taken in combination with other essential nutrients, it can slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration and visual acuity loss.

       

      • Vitamin E: Reduces the risk of Age-related Macular Degeneration

        Alpha-tocopherol is a form of vitamin E with exceptionally potent antioxidant effects. Antioxidants attack free radicals, which cause tissue damage throughout the body. Free radicals can occasionally damage proteins in the eyes. This damage can cause clouded spots on the eye's lens, known as cataracts. A 2015 meta-analysis indicated that a high consumption of vitamin E, either through diet or supplementation, may lower the risk of acquiring cataracts. Foods rich in vitamin E include vegetable oils (including safflower and corn oil), nuts (almonds, peanuts) and seeds (sunflower seeds), wheat germ and sweet potatoes.

         

        • B vitamins

          It has been found that a reduced intake of vitamin B3 (niacin) may lead to glaucoma. In people with glaucoma, a buildup of fluid within the eye puts pressure on the optic nerve. Over time, this can damage the nerve, resulting in vision loss. A small 2020 study also found that supplementation of vitamin B1 and mecobalamin may reduce symptoms of dry eye disease. The following foods contain high levels of various B vitamins:

          • Vitamin B1: Beans, lentils, fish, green peas, yogurt
          • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): Oats, yogurt, milk, clams, mushrooms, almonds
          • Vitamin B3 (niacin): Chicken, fish such as salmon and tuna, brown and white rice, peanuts
          • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine): Chickpeas, dark leafy greens, poultry, beef liver, salmon, and tuna
          • Vitamin B9 (folic acid): Dark leafy greens, peanuts, beans, seafood, sunflower seeds, eggs
          • Vitamin B12 (cobalamin): Fish, liver, red meat, poultry, eggs

            People who do not consume animal products can easily consume enough vitamin B12 through supplements and fortified foodstuffs.

             

            1. Omega-3 fatty acids:

              Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for normal vision development and retinal function. Studies on pre-term and full-term newborns indicate that having enough omega-3 fatty acids in the diet is critical for proper visual development.

             

            1. Minerals

            • Selenium: provide synergy with vitamins for protection of antioxidant.
            • Zinc: helps Vitamin A in reducing risk of night blindness. Zinc plays a vital role in bringing vitamin A from the liver to the retina in order to produce melanin, a protective pigment in the eyes. Impaired vision, such as poor night vision and cloudy cataracts, has been linked to zinc deficiency. For natural dietary sources of zinc, red meat, oysters and other shellfish, and nuts and seeds should be incorporated in the diet.

               

              Superfoods for vision support

              • According to numerous studies, lutein and zeaxanthin reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases. People who got the most lutein and zeaxanthin had a much lower risk for developing new cataracts. Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale are the primary source of lutein, zeaxanthin and carotenoids which can reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration and cataracts.
              • Kelp, apricot, cod-liver oil, cherry, asparagus, fungi, kiwifruit, purple sweet potato, beans, and brown rice are components of an eye-protecting health food that can prevent various eye diseases and ensure good eyesight.
              • Citrus Fruits like oranges and guava are rich in vitamin C, which helps to protect cells from damage and may also help reduce the risk of cataracts.
              • Fish, particularly salmon, tuna, and mackerel, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, may help prevent dry eyes and reduce the risk of macular degeneration.
              • Nuts and seeds, such as almonds and sunflower seeds, contain vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids, which can protect the eyes from age-related damage.
              • Carrots and sweet potatoes are high in beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A in the body and is essential for good vision.
              • Eggs contain lutein, zeaxanthin, and zinc, protecting the eyes from damage.
              • Blueberries provide antioxidant support for blood Vessels in the eyes.

                 

                Foods that one should limit

                • High sugar foods
                • Candy and Sweets spikes up the blood sugar levels, affecting vision.
                • Highly processed foods
                • Foods rich in Trans fats
                • Packaged Baked Goods

                   

                  Overall, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, and seeds can help maintain eye health by providing essential nutrients and antioxidants. Also staying hydrated is important for overall health, including eye health as dehydration can lead to dry eyes affecting basic functioning of eyes. Diets rich in fish, eggs, nuts, legumes, citrus fruits, green vegetables, olives and their derivatives, particularly olive oil, and dairy products have been demonstrated to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective properties for the eyes. Nutritional supplements can also help manage chronic degenerative eye conditions. A combination of vitamins, carotenoids, micronutrients, trace elements, and plant extracts has been shown to protect corneal and retinal cells from harm. Overall, a well-balanced diet that includes the foods and supplements mentioned above may help to keep your eyes healthy and prevent eye illness.

                  References

                  • Lawrenson JG, Downie LE. Nutrition and Eye Health. Nutrients. 2019 Sep 6;11(9):2123. doi: 10.3390/nu11092123. PMID: 31489894; PMCID: PMC6771137.
                  • Naghma, Nazrana., Tejasvi, Jain., Sanjay, Verma. (2020). Role of nutrition in maintaining normal eyesight-a review. 4(3) doi: 10.32553/IJMBS.V4I3.1068
                  • John, G, Lawrenson., Laura, E, Downie. (2019). Nutrition and Eye Health. Nutrients, 11(9):2123-. doi: 10.3390/NU11092123
                  • Maria, Markoulli., Jayashree, Arcot., Sumayya, Ahmad., Reiko, Arita., Jose, M., Benitez-del-Castillo., Barbara, Caffery., Laura, E, Downie., Judith, Flanagan., Marc, Labetoulle., Stuti, L., Misra., Małgorzata, Mrugacz., Sumeer, Singh., John, D., Sheppard., Jelle, Vehof., Piera, Versura., Mark, D., P., Willcox., Jillian, F., Ziemanski., James, S., Wolffsohn. (2023). TFOS lifestyle: Impact of nutrition on the ocular surface.. Ocular Surface, 29:226-271. doi: 10.1016/j.jtos.2023.04.003
                  • Choudhuri, S., Dutta, S., & Subramani, K. (2016). Lutein and zeaxanthin: their role in the prevention and treatment of age-related macular degeneration. Ophthalmic & physiological optics, 36(4), 512-522.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8874683/
                  • National Institutes of Health. Vitamin A https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK567744/
                  National Institutes of Health. Zinc.  https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/
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