Some vitamins are necessary to maintain eye health. Many of them are powerful antioxidants that protect the eyes and other parts of the body from oxidation and inflammation. Deficiencies in some vitamins can increase the risk of certain eye diseases, such as cataracts, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Research suggests that some vitamin and mineral supplements may help protect against these conditions or slow their growth. Here are the four essential vitamins for good eye health. We also cover three other nutrients that are good for the eyes.
4 vitamins that contribute to eye health
People who wish to protect the health of their eyes should try to include adequate amounts of the following vitamins in their diet.
1. Vitamin A and beta-carotene
Vitamin A can help a person see in low light conditions. Vitamin A is essential for good vision. It is a component of the rhodopsin protein, which allows the eye to see in low light conditions. Vitamin A deficiency can lead to night blindness. Vitamin A also helps with the functioning of the cornea, which is the eye’s protective outer layer. A person deficient in vitamin A may find that their eyes produce too little moisture to remain lubricated. Beta-carotene is the main source of vitamin A in the human diet. Beta-carotene is a type of plant pigment called a carotenoid, and it is found in many colorful fruits and vegetables. When a person consumes carotenoids, the body converts the pigments into vitamin A.
2. Vitamin E
Alpha-tocopherol is a form of vitamin E that has particularly powerful antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help fight free radicals that damage body tissues. Sometimes free radicals can damage eye proteins. This damage can cause cloudy areas called cataracts to appear on the lens of the eye. A 2014 review looked at studies linking vitamin E to the prevention of cataracts. Some of this research found that lens clarity was better in people who took vitamin E supplements, but the authors note that a separate study showed that vitamin E supplements had no effect on the development of cataracts. They concluded that more research is needed to determine the effectiveness of vitamin E supplementation in preventing and slowing the progression of cataracts.
3. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is another powerful antioxidant that helps protect against oxidation. Oxidative damage is a major factor in two of the most common conditions of age-related cataracts: cortical and nuclear cataracts. Cortical cataracts develop around the edges of the lens, while nuclear cataracts occur deep in its center or “core”. A 2016 longitudinal study looked at various factors that may prevent the development of cataracts. The study looked at more than 1,000 pairs of endoscopes. At the start of the study, the researchers measured the participants’ cataracts. They then tracked each participant’s intake of vitamin C and other nutrients for 10 years. At the end of the study period, the researchers re-measured the cataracts of 324 pairs of endoscopes. Participants who took more vitamin C showed a 33% reduced risk of developing cataracts.
4. B vitamins
A 2009 study suggests that daily supplementation with a combination of vitamins B-6, B-9, and B-12 may reduce the risk of AMD. AMD is a degenerative disease of the eye that affects vision. However, this particular study only included women. Therefore more research is needed to support the use of B vitamins in preventing AMD in women and men.
An older study looked at nutrient intake and eye health in 2,900 people between the ages of 49 and 97. The results showed that higher intakes of protein, vitamin A, and vitamin B (riboflavin, thiamine, and niacin) were associated with a lower incidence of cataracts. A 2018 national study in South Korea found a link between low intake of vitamin B3, or niacin, and glaucoma. In people with glaucoma, fluid buildup in the eye puts pressure on the optic nerve. Over time, this pressure can damage the nerve and lead to vision loss.
3 other nutrients for eye health
Research indicates that the following nutrients also benefit the eyes.
1. Lutein and Zeaxanthin
Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids found in large amounts in leafy green vegetables. They are also present in the lens and retina. As antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin can help reduce oxidative damage to the retina. Some research suggests that taking about 6 milligrams (mg) per day of lutein and zeaxanthin might reduce the risk of AMD.
Zinc is a mineral that helps maintain the health of the retina, cell membranes and the protein structure of the eye. Zinc allows vitamin A to pass from the liver to the retina to produce melanin. Melanin is a pigment that protects the eyes from ultraviolet (UV) rays. Zinc supplements can help people with AMD or at risk of developing this condition. Taking 40 to 80 mg of zinc daily, along with some antioxidants, can slow the progression of advanced AMD by 25%. It may also reduce visual acuity loss by 19%.
3. Omega-3 fatty acids
You can help protect the retina by taking omega-3. The retina contains an especially high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3)Trusted Source. These fatty acids help protect the retina from damage and degeneration. Specifically, omega-3s reduce the buildup of fatty deposits in blood vessels, including those that supply the retina with blood. Some scientists believe that fatty deposits in these blood vessels may contribute to AMD.
Additionally, a small body of research suggests that increasing omega-3 intake may reduce the risk of dry eye syndrome. A person with dry eye syndrome does not produce enough tears to keep the eye moist. However, research in this area is limited and more studies are needed to support this claim.
Certain vitamins and nutrients are necessary to maintain eye health. Some may even help prevent the emergence or development of certain eye diseases. A balanced and healthy diet provides a range of essential nutrients. The diet should include whole grains, legumes and lots of colorful fruits and vegetables.
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