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
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
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.”
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