If you are fortunate to be reading this blog, your eyes may be working well. For Healthy Vision Month, let's talk eye health and decode eye supplements.
Nutrients in Eye Health
All nutrients are important for health, and the eyes tend to accumulate carotenoids, like leutin, carotene, and zeaxanthin. (For more about food pigment colors, read this Rainbow of Food Pigments post.) These carotenoids act as antioxidants, protecting cells from damage. Carotene is needed in preventing night blindness.
Some research also suggests that diets higher in omega-3 fats are related to reduced risk of eye-related diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration.
Most eye supplements contain caroteinoids and omega-3 fats, as well as some vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C or zinc, which are also involved in eye health.
Eye for Food
Many nutrition professionals suggest "foods first." This refers to the idea that foods contain nutrients we need for living, and we should eat foods first before considering supplements.
(After all, a supplement may only have vitamin C, for example. An orange, also a source of vitamin C, has other vitamins, like potassium, and carotenoids. More bang for your buck just to eat an orange.)
Fruits and vegetables are important sources of carotenoids. Dark leafy greens (kale, collards, spinach, etc.) contain a lot of leutin and zeaxanthin, as do berries and orange citrus (oranges, tangerines, etc.). Omega-3 fats are found in fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, etc.) and nuts and seeds (walnuts, flax, etc.)
Remember, many fruits, veggies, seafood, and nuts have benefits, not just ones discussed here. Eat many types of healthy foods you like, and explore others you want to try. To see amounts of nutrients in different foods, do a search in the USDA's Nutrient Database.
Other Steps for Eye Health
- Stop Smoking. Smoking can harm eye tissues and lead to eye diseases.
- Wear Sun Protection. Wearing hats, sunglasses, and other eye protectors is important to limit damage to eyes by the sun.
- Maintain healthy blood pressure and weight. High blood pressure, often associated with carrying extra weight, can damage cells of the eyes as blood moves through at a high force.
- Manage blood sugar. Individuals with diabetes are at higher risk of eye disease, such as diabetic retinopathy.
If you find that getting nutrients though food is hard – such as difficulty swallowing, dietary restrictions, increased nutrient needs in certain population groups, challenges purchasing recommended foods, etc. – it may helpful to use nutrient supplements.
- Supplements are not regulated in the same way drugs and foods are. Companies making supplements are responsible for evaluating safety of the supplement, not the FDA or another regulatory agency. Pick brands that have been tested for quality, such as showing a USP label.
- Taking supplements may not provide much benefit if you already get those nutrients through food. If you already eat foods with nutrients, taking a supplement with a few specific nutrients may not improve your health. The body can only use so much of a nutrient. And may be harmful in large doses.
- Show your eye doctor, pharmacist, and other health professionals you see a list of any supplements you take. Supplements may interact with each other and with medications. Be safe and check!
Go for "foods first" when it comes to your eye health. Monitor other aspects of your health you can do for your eyes, such as keeping healthy blood pressure and using sun protection. If you decide eye supplements are worth using, use a dose recommended by your doctor and continue to make healthy food choices each day.
- The Eyes Have It!, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, 2015
- Eating for Healthy Eyes, Alabama Cooperative Extension System, N/D
- Straight from the Tanumihardjo Laboratory: What about commercial lutein supplements?, University of Wisconsin Extension, 2004
- Nourish Your Eyes for Optimal Health, North Dakota University Cooperative Extension
- Eating for Your Eye Health, North Dakota University Cooperative Extension, 2014
- Protect your vision with a healthy diet, University of Missouri Extension, 2009
- Diabetes -The Medical Perspective, Diabetes Lifelines, University of Illinois Extension, 2015
- Carotenoids and Eye Health, University of Florida Extension, 2011
- 5 Top Foods for Eye Health, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2014
- THE "EYES" HAVE IT!, University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service, 2011
Today's post was written by Caitlin Huth. Caitlin Huth, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and Nutrition & Wellness Educator serving DeWitt, Macon, and Piatt Counties. She teaches nutrition- and food-based lessons around heart health, food safety, diabetes, and others. In all classes, she encourages trying new foods, gaining confidence in healthy eating, and getting back into our kitchens.