All About Eye Vitamins & Why They are Essential for Vision Health

By Roy Krebs

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Many of us take a daily vitamin supplement for sustenance. 

We want to support our muscles, bones, brains and heart — this is all pretty obvious in the grand scheme of things.

So we take vitamin D for bone health, or Omega-3s for cardiovascular support.

Bur rarely do we think about our eyes, these miraculous structures that help us to do almost everything, every single day.

Our sight is something that is so essential for our survival, and yet we probably don’t think enough about eye health — that is, until it starts to be too late.  

The good news is that it’s pretty simple to incorporate a few supplements into our diets in order to prevent and minimize eye-related problems.  

About Our Eyes

Our eyes are pretty extraordinary little things, which essentially work like cameras.

Light comes into the clear cornea of the eye, and the iris inside the eye automatically controls the amount of light coming in.

The lens, behind the pupil, takes the light and helps us focus.

Lastly, that light reaches the retina which is in the back of the eye. The retina forms images which tell our brains what things are via the optic nerve.

It is this message that tells us what we “see.”  

Blue Light

One of the main reasons we’re becoming more interested in eye health has to do with the amount of time we’re spending attached to our computer and mobile screens.

As we do this, we’re exposed to blue light, a short wavelength, higher-power light that can cause damage to the retina of the eye.

Since the lens and iris do little to absorb blue light, it actually comes through our eyes and hits the back of the retina.

Too much exposure to blue light can damage the retina over time, leading to eye strain, and possibly even macular degeneration.

Reducing Blue Light Exposure  

For many of us, there’s no getting around the fact that we need to stare at our computer screens for long periods of time.

But when this isn’t absolutely necessary for work (and even when it is), it’s important that we bear a few things in mind when it comes to reducing the risks of blue light exposure.

Although it has not been entirely proven that blue light is damaging, there's no doubt that digital eyestrain can negatively affect the eyes.

Taking “screen” breaks regularly throughout the day will help to protect your eyes from both strain and blue light.   

It’s also worth noting that sunshine, fluorescent lights and LED lights also emit a certain amount of blue light.

Even if blue light turns out to be not too harmful, sunglasses also help protect us from ultraviolet exposure, so wearing them outside protects us in both ways.      

Too much blue light can negatively effect natural melatonin production and delay sleep patterns.  

To get a good nights sleep and let your eyes rest, shut your digital devices down at least two hours before bedtime.     

Taking precautions such as reducing screen time, wearing sunglasses, and making sure your eyes have proper nutrition can go a long way to reducing blue light damage. [1]

Related: Beyond Blue Light: How Technology is Killing Our Eyes

Top Eye Health Problems

When it comes to eye health, there are a few serious eye diseases and disorders that you should be aware of:  

Macular degeneration occurs when the macula (a part of the retina) wears down or is damaged, leading to vision loss. Its one of the main causes of vision loss for people over 50.

Symptoms can include distorted shapes, things that should be straight lines looking wavy, seeing things in black and white, or dark areas in your field of vision. [2]

  • Cataracts occur when our lenses, which are normally clear and flexible become cloudy and lose their flexibility, leading to impaired vision.
  • Glaucoma is the result of too much fluid in the eye, leading to high pressure and resulting damage of the optical nerve, resulting in permanent vision loss.  
  • Diabetic macular edema occurs when fluid builds up in the macula causing swelling, which then leads to blurry or otherwise changed vision.
  • Retinal detachment happens when the retina detaches from the back of the eye. Though it is genearlly painless, it effects the way the light comes into the eye, leading to a change in vision. Notable changes include a greying of colors, floaters, and an overall decrease in vision.
  • Uveitis happens when the protective lining around the eye (the uvea) becomes inflamed. Depending on what part of the uvea is inflamed, symptoms include pain and changes in vision.

Why Eye Vitamins are Important

Proper nutrition is necessary for every part of your body, including bones, muscles, and cartilage, to stay in tact and function well.  

A balanced, whole food diet loaded with fruits and vegetables will provide your body with plenty of nutrients.  

But most of us aren’t able to access and prepare the right amounts of healthy foods that we need to get optimal doses of vitamins and minerals every day.  

In addition, beacuse many foods are now laden with chemicals and soil is fillled with pesticides, even foods we do consider nutritious don’t tend to be as full of nutrients as we think they are.

Taking a daily supplement or two can help to balance out these missing vitamins, minerals and other nutrients and can work wonders for our eye health, especially as we age.

Related: The 10 Vitamins and Supplements Every Baby Boomer Should Take

Food and Supplements for Eye Health

Our eyes truly do go through a lot day-to-day. Even for those of us who aren’t constantly staring at screens, we’ve got to take care to rest them regularly and see our opthamologis regularly.

Beyond that, there are a few thins we can do to help prevent damange and breakdown that particularly tends to occur the older we get.

The Best Foods for Eye Health 

Food contains fat, carbs, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and other compounds that our bodies break down into usable parts and uses for energetic and restorative purposes.  

Our eyes need the same foods as the rest of the body. Eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, including plenty of dark leafy greens, is a must for eye health.  

The DHA found in omega-3 oil is a very potent ingredient for eye health. It’s found in algae, anchovies, salmon, mackerel, and even eggs.

Studies show that adequate amounts of DHA protect the retina from various forms of damage and disease, including age-related macular degeneration. [3, 4]

While DHA is available via various forms of seafood, to get adequate amounts, your best bet for getting an adequate amount is a fish or krill oil supplement.

Supplements for Optimal Vision 

Supplements provide nutrients in a more concentrated and specific format — not to mention the fact that they’re much easier to consumer than the piles and piles of fresh foods you’d need to eat to get proper levels of certain nutrients in your diet.  

The best supplements to prevent macular degeneration and support overall eye and vision health include:  

  • Lutein
  • Zeaxanthin
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D3
  • Vitamin E
  • Omega-3    

Below, we’ll break down exactly what these supplements are, and how they can help your eyes and vision stay strong.

What is Lutein?

Lutein is a pigment belonging to the xanthophyll carotenoids. The other two carotenoids found in the eye are zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin.

The retina contains all three pigments in large concentrations, and these give the retina its yellow color.

The retina is a part of one of the most metabolically active tissues in the human body — meaning that it consumes an extremely high amount of energy given its size and function. [5]

Because the retina is constantly undergoing chemical reactions and handling large amounts of light every day, it's quite prone to damage.   

Lutein can help sustain overall macular function and protect us from damage caused by: [6, 7]

  • Blue light
  • Macular degeneration  
  • Cataracts
  • Arterial fat buildup

Lutein side effects are rare. It should be noted, though, that people with cystic fibrosis usually have a problem absorbing carotenoids, so that can limit its effectiveness in that population. 

What is Zeaxanthin?

Zeaxanthin is the other main xanthophyll carotenoid found in the eye.

Structurally, i’s almost identical structure to lutein, which means that it also has a similar function.

Zeaxanthin occurs in higher concentrations in the center of the eye, while lutein resides in greater quantities along the outside of the retina. However, both pigments are present in the entire retina.

Zeaxanthin and lutein are usually found together in foods in similar amounts, so studies often address them together.

We know that zeaxanthin has many of the same benefits as lutein, protecting us from free radicals, macular degeneration, and cataracts. It also is beneficial for skin health.

Experts generally consider Zeaxanthin safe to use, and it currently has no known side effects. Again, since it is a carotenoid, people with cystic fibrosis may have trouble absorbing it.

Why Lutein + Zeaxanthin Make the Perfect Eye Vitamin

As we stated earlier, both lutein and zeaxanthin occur naturally together in our food. They have formed a relationship where they work together in our eyes, so consuming both gives you the most benefit.

They facilitate clear vision, absorb harmful blue light, act as antioxidants, and prevent or slow the onset of macular degeneration and cataracts.

Together, they make an excellent addition to any eye vitamin.

Eye Vitamins for Macular Degeneration

Certain vitamins have been shown to be good for eye health. 

A good eye vitamin contains these nutrients in their formula:

  • Lutein and zeaxanthin: As discussed above, these carotenoids help slow or prevent macular degeneration by reducing tissue damage and providing visual acuity.
  • Vitamin C: Ascorbic acid helps support cell health. It is especially important to the health of blood vessels in the eye. Experts also believe it helps slow macular degeneration and the formation of cataracts.
  • Vitamin E: Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant in the body and reacts with free radicals. Experts believe it is important for proper immune system function and tissue health. They also think it helps slow macular degeneration and cataract formation.
  • Zinc: Zinc is needed to bring vitamin A from the liver to the eye, where it can make melanin in the retina. This melanin helps protect the retina from damage.

Zinc also promotes retina health, in general. Studies have shown that zinc can help slow the progression of macular degeneration.

Some studies also link zinc deficiency to cataracts formation and poor night vision. 

Related: 5 Powerful Supplements for Perfect Vision and Eye Health

Keeping our Eyes in Top Shape  

Our survival depends on our eyes — but not only in an evolutionary sense.

Many of us rely heavily on our sight for everyday necessities, from work to play, to seeing our loved ones.  

By maintaining good eye-health practices, eating healthy food, and taking supplements that protect your eyes, you can continue to enjoy the beauty of the world around you.

Are you already taking steps to protect your eyes? If so, what are they? Share your thoughts below! 

  1. Vimont, Celia. "Should you be worried about blue light?" American Academy of Ophthalmology. August 24, 2017. 
  2. Age-Related Macular Degeneration. American Optometric Association. 
  3. Eye Health Tips. National Eye Institute.
  4. Querques, Giuseppe et al. “Retina and Omega-3.” J Nutr Metab. 2011.  
  5. Wong-Reiley, Margaret. “Energy metabolism of the visual system.” Eye Brain. 2010; 2: 99–116.
  6. Torrey, George. “Lutein for Preventing Macular Degeneration.” American Macular Degeneration Foundation.
  7. Koushan, K. et al. “The Role of Lutein in Eye-Related Diseases.” Nutrients. 2013 May; 5(5): 1823–1839.
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