Beyond the Carrot: 5 Surprising Facts About How Diet And Nutritional Supplements Impact Eye Health

Posted By Key Whitman || 16-Sep-2015

You’ve been hearing it for years, “Carrots are great for your vision,” but what does that really mean? (See below!) On the other hand, many people underestimate the role a balanced diet and certain nutrients play in preventing eye discomfort, vision loss and even blindness.

The truth is the food and nutritional supplements you consume can have a profound impact on eye health.

According to Key Whitman Eye Center’s Therapeutic Optometrist in Dallas, Martin Faber, O.D., “Certain foods and supplements can help prevent two main vision problems, macular degeneration and dry eye syndrome. In addition, maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is essential for people who want to control or prevent diabetes, a disease that can cause significant diabetes-related vision problems when blood sugar or A1C levels aren’t managed properly.”

We asked Dr. Faber to explain the role diet and supplements play in preventing these eye diseases and conditions and the potential risks people face along the way. You may be surprised to learn:

1. Nutrients in carrots DO support eye health, but not in the way you think.

Carrots are packed with vitamin A, which is actually a group of antioxidant compounds that can deter vision loss, protect the cornea (surface of the eye), ease the discomfort of dry eye and ward off infection.

The common misconception is that if you eat plenty of carrots you can reverse vision loss. This simply isn’t true.

“In fact consuming too many carrots or Vitamin A in supplement form can be problematic, because it’s a fat soluble vitamin, which can accumulate in the fatty tissues of the body, including the liver. Too much Vitamin A, particularly in supplement form, can be toxic and may lead to liver damage,” Dr. Faber says.

2. Government research led to the development of a formula to ward off one of the leading causes of blindness.

As Dr. Faber explains, “That formula is actually a nutritional supplement composed of vitamins and nutrients, which the National Eye Institute (NEI) found reduced the risk of advanced age related macular degeneration by 25 percent.”

The original 2001 AREDS (Age-Related Eye Disease Study) formula included vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene, zinc and copper. The researchers then tweaked the formula with the 2006 AREDS 2 study, after a significant increase in the risk of lung cancer in smokers was linked to beta carotene and to test the benefits of adding omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin.

“If you have been diagnosed with macular degeneration or have a family history of the disease, ask your eye doctor how adding AREDS or AREDS2 supplements to your diet can help deter vision loss. There is NO cure for macular degeneration, so prevention is key,” Dr. Faber says.

Want to learn more about the AREDS research? Check out these AREDS FAQs from the NEI.

3. Certain foods and supplements can alleviate dry eye syndrome.

“Dietary supplements or foods that contain a combination of essential fatty acids, both omega 3s and omega 6s, can often reduce the symptoms of dry eye syndrome. As a result, some people, who naturally lack those elements, are able to produce a more appropriate tear to help the eyes stay more lubricated,” explains Dr. Faber.

Tearing isn’t about the amount of water we have in our eyes, in fact many people with dry eye syndrome find their eyes will tear up because the surface of the eye dries up, but water isn’t a very good lubricant.

According to Dr. Faber, “The glands that produce oils that are good lubricants are often stimulated better by certain supplements and foods, mainly derived from fish (thus the name fish oil supplements), but you can get some benefits from plant based omega 3s and omega 6s, too. Wild salmon is considered to be one of the best sources for omega 3 fatty acids. And we recommend specific supplements with omega 3s. omega 6s and other nutrients that work very well for some patients with dry eye syndrome.”

4. If you’re not careful, supplements can have a downside.

The problem with some nutritional supplements is inconsistency. The FDA only loosely regulates the supplements industry, so consequently, you will find some supplements on the market that are not as good as others.

“Even within certain supplement manufacturers, you may not get the same consistent product every time. At Key-Whitman, we recommend ScienceBased Health nutraceuticals, because the company ascribes to high standards, uses pharmaceutical grade products and goes through very vigorous testing to make sure the product is consistent time after time,” says Dr. Faber.

People also need to be careful to avoid excess supplementation. Dr. Faber finds, “Many people start out slow with supplements, see the benefits, then take it to the extreme. If you’re taking a multivitamin, plus additional supplements, you want to make sure you’re not overdoing your supplementation.”

In particular, zinc is one component of the AREDS formula that may also be in multivitamins, and if you take more than is recommended you may end up with stomach cramping, fever and other dietary issues.

“People who take anti-coagulants along with supplements may experience problems, too. That’s why it’s vital to have a conversation with your general health care practitioner about any supplements you are considering before you take them,” Dr. Faber adds.

5. Many foods touted for overall health can support eye health, too.

The two main factors found to deter macular degeneration are the protective pigments known as the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin (found in the AREDS2 formula). These nutrients are found naturally in broccoli and dark leafy greens like spinach, kale and Swiss chard – the same veggies purported to lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, along with many other health benefits.

“Lutein and zeaxanthin help support the layer of pigment in the retina, which protects the macular area in the eye from degenerating over the years. Certain nuts and seeds contain a variety of nutrients as well as healthy proteins to protect the eyes. Blueberries, which are often touted as a super food, are loaded with antioxidants and other nutrients that support eye health,” says Dr. Faber.

Find YOUR Healthy Balance

As Dr. Faber explains, “There’s no magic bullet or perfect food that does everything, but a wealth of data suggests people should follow a diet heavy in fruits, vegetables and fish to combat certain eye issues and to experience preventive health benefits. It’s typically best not to rely on supplements alone.

If you tilt your diet toward the nutrient rich foods, you’ll have your best chance at optimum ocular health. Studies continue to show that people diagnosed with macular degeneration, find the best balance with both supplements and a healthy diet. Just be sure to talk with both your primary care physician and eye care practitioner, to ensure you find a balance that works best for your individual circumstances.”

Photo Source: Dollar Photo Club

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