One of the most common effects of aging is decreased eye health. Age-related eye changes like cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration are frequently seen in older adults, and many people assume they go hand in hand with the aging process. There are proactive and protective steps we can take to protect our eyes as we age. Wearing sunglasses with UV protection when outdoors, avoiding blue light from screens, and practicing the 20-20-20 rule (every 20 minutes, focus on something 20ft away for 20 seconds) are great ways to improve eye health and reduce your risk of damage. But the old adage “you are what you eat” rings true for eye health as well.
Healthy, nutrient-rich foods for eye health are important in maintaining and preventing age-related changes, but as we all know, many Americans are unable to obtain all the nutrients they need through diet alone. Supplementation, vitamins, and nutrients known to benefit the eyes can help sustain eye health throughout your lifespan. Here is a list of the best supplements for eye health that may help fill in the gaps in your diet and keep your peepers healthy for years to come.
Best Supplements for Eye Health
1. Vitamin A
Vitamin A is an essential nutrient tied to many aspects of overall health but is especially important for maintaining a clear cornea. Vitamin A also helps your eyes see in low-light conditions, and some studies show it protects against age-related conditions like cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Severe Vitamin A deficiency can also lead to a condition called Xerophthalmia — a degenerative corneal condition that leads to blindness if left untreated.
Vitamin C is more than just an immune booster! A powerful antioxidant, vitamin C helps neutralize damaging free radicals everywhere in the body, including the eyes. Vitamin C also helps the body produce collagen, which helps provide support to the many parts of the eye. There is also evidence that supplementation with vitamin C can reduce the risk of cataracts by up to 45%.
3. Vitamin E
Other vitamins for eye health include vitamin E, an antioxidant, which is also useful in protecting the eye from age-related changes. A study published in 2008 showed that vitamin E supplementation by people with age-related macular degeneration slowed the disease’s progression by 25%.
4. Lutein and Zeaxanthin
Part of a group of chemical compounds called carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, are found in the macula and retina. Carotenoids, which are pigments produced by plants, give the reddish-orange hue to tomatoes, pumpkins, carrots, and other plants — and they also help filter blue-light, the potentially damaging light produced by our screens and devices. There is also evidence that lutein and zeaxanthin can help slow the progression of macular degeneration and cataracts.
5. B Vitamins
Vitamins B6, B9, and B12 work in conjunction to improve eye health. One study showed a combination of the three reduced the risk of age-related macular degeneration in women, while another showed a link between them and a decreased amount of the inflammatory protein homocysteine in the body. Homocysteine is thought to contribute to the development of AMD.
Vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin, is an antioxidant that has shown promise in reducing the risk of cataracts in older adults. A link between riboflavin deficiency in older adults and cataract development has been shown, but decreased riboflavin in younger adults seems to have no effect on vision at all.
Subscribe to the World's Most Popular Natural Wellness Newsletter (it's free!)
7. Beta carotene
Another carotenoid, beta carotene functions similarly to lutein and zeaxanthin in protecting the cornea and filtering harmful blue light. Since all three, lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta carotene, are A vitamins, they are fat-soluble instead of water-soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored within lipid cells and are not metabolized as quickly as water-soluble vitamins. Because of this, the chance of overdose or building up toxic levels in the body is increased. These supplements should only be taken under the supervision of a physician to avoid any side effects.
Vitamin B3, niacin, is another antioxidant that can help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, but a few studies show a positive correlation between niacin and decreased risk of glaucoma, which is characterized by damage to the optic nerve resulting in increased intraorbital pressure, or pressure inside your eye. Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in older adults. The condition can be medically managed, but not cured. Caution should be taken with niacin supplementation, as too much can actually damage the eyes.
A diet rich in vitamins and nutrients is ideal for maintaining your ocular health, but many times, eye health supplements are necessary. Consult with your physician before adding any new supplements to your regimen to avoid unwanted side effects.
Kristi Pahr is a freelance health and wellness writer and mother of two who spends most of her time caring for people other than herself. She is frequently exhausted and compensates with an intense caffeine addiction. Her work has appeared in Good Housekeeping, Real Simple, Men’s Health, and many others.
Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group (AREDS). A randomized, placebo-controlled, clinical trial of high-dose supplementation with vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and zinc for age-related macular degeneration and vision loss: AREDS report no. 8. Archives of Ophthalmology. 2001 Oct;119(10):1417-36. doi: 10.1001/archopht.119.10.1417
Christen WG, Glynn RJ, Chew EY, Albert CM, Manson JE. Folic acid, pyridoxine, and cyanocobalamin combination treatment and age-related macular degeneration in women: the Women’s Antioxidant and Folic Acid Cardiovascular Study. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2009 Feb 23;169(4):335-41. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2008.574.
Hankinson SE, Stampfer MJ, Seddon JM, et al. Nutrient intake and cataract extraction in women: a prospective study. BMJ. 1992 Aug 8;305(6849):335-9. doi: 10.1136/bmj.305.6849.335
Huang P, Wang F, Sah BK, et al. Homocysteine and the risk of age-related macular degeneration: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Science Reports. 2015; 5: 10585. doi: 10.1038/srep10585
Seddon JM, Ajani UA, Sperduto RD, et al. Dietary carotenoids, vitamins A, C, and E, and advanced age-related macular degeneration. Eye Disease Case-Control Study Group. JAMA. 1994 Nov 9;272(18):1413-20.
Skalka HW, Prchal JT. Cataracts and riboflavin deficiency. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1981 May;34(5):861-3. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/34.5.861