As you age, your eye health will naturally decline and deteriorate. It’s simply part of the aging process. Many of us are also born with suboptimal vision, and require glasses or contact lenses, to aid in poor eyesight. But what about specific vitamins and supplements, to help slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration? Are there any eye health supplements, that can potentially benefit eye health and produce better vision? Research shows that certain vitamins and minerals, may slow the progression of eye related disease. We’re going to discuss what vitamins and eye health supplements, will encourage better vision and support long term eye health.
Eye Structure And Anatomy
To understand the diseases and conditions that can affect the eye, it helps to understand the anatomy of the eye, and how it can progressively deteriorate over time to determine which eye health supplements will provide the most optimal benefits.
The eye sits in a bony socket, called the orbit. Six extraocular muscles are connected to the eye within the orbit, which move the eye up and down, from side to side, and rotate the eye.
The surface of the eye and inner layer of the eyelids are covered with a clear membrane called the conjunctiva. Light is focused into the eye through the dome shaped frontal portion called the cornea, and behind the cornea is a fluid-filled space known as the anterior chamber. The fluid, called the aqueous humor maintains eye pressure.
Behind the aqueous humor is the iris, the colored part of the eye and the dark center is of course the pupil. Muscles in the iris dilate (widen) or constrict (narrow) the pupil to control the amount of light reaching the back of the eye.
Directly behind the pupil, is what’s called the lens. The lens focuses light towards the back of the eye, and changes shape to focus on up-close objects. The cornea and the lens, focus light as it enters the eye, and play a vital role in providing you with clear vision.
In the back of the eye, light that is focused passes through the cornea and lens onto the retina, and a tiny, specialized area of the retina, called the macula provides your detailed central vision. The retina has unique cells called photoreceptors. Photoreceptors change light into energy, which is transmitted to the brain.
The 4 Best Eye Health Supplements
Evidence does exist that shows a combination of nutrients, specifically vitamin c, e, beta-carotene, and zinc, collectively known as the AREDS formulation (age-related disease studies) may reduce the risk of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
Carotenoids And Eye Health
Additional research has shown that the carotenoids, lutein, and zeaxanthin may also support eye health. Carotenoids are a class of phytonutrients, which are found in a wide variety of plants. Their function is to help plants absorb light energy for use in photosynthesis. Carotenoids are mainly yellow, orange, or red fat-soluble pigments, including carotene, which give color to fruit and vegetables like cherries and beets. There are more than 600 different carotenoids, which must be consumed through your diet from foods like kale, yams, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, mangoes, and oranges. Carotenoids are classified into two main groups: xanthophylls and carotenes.
Both types of carotenoids have antioxidant properties. In addition, some carotenoids can be converted into vitamin A an essential component for human health and growth.
Provitamin A carotenoids include alpha carotene, beta carotene, and beta cryptoxanthin which are converted into retinol or vitamin A. Tocopherols and tocotrienols (vitamin E), and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) are also antioxidants, which help eradicate free radicals.
Think of antioxidants like an invisible armor. Antioxidants safeguard and protect your body from potential damaging elements found in the environment called free radicals. Free radicals come in a variety of different forms, from pollution, sun exposure, alcohol consumption, smoke inhalation, and even high blood sugar. Antioxidants act to neutralize free radicals to keep your body in balance or in a state of homeostasis. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, to prevent oxidative stress; an imbalance caused when free radicals outnumber the antioxidants you have. With a severe imbalance, oxidative stress can cause chronic inflammatory disease, like heart disease, cancer, eye degeneration and diabetes.
Eating carotenoid rich foods, can protect your eyes and prevent or slow down the rate of degeneration.
1. Krill Oil And Astaxanthin
Krill Oil is an omega-3 powerhouse, rich in long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), eicosatetraenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Omega-3 fatty acids are essential meaning they play a significant role in nearly every biological process in the human body. Essential also means you must acquire omega-3 from dietary sources or from supplementation.
Some evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may provide benefits for eye health and managing ocular disease [R]. Krill oil, a tiny crustacean found in the deep Antarctic Ocean, has a unique molecular makeup, which is extremely relevant to eye health. Not only does krill oil contain essential omega fats, Krill oil naturally contains a potent and powerful antioxidant - astaxanthin. Astaxanthin is a naturally occurring xanthophyll carotenoid, which gives krill as well as other sea crustaceans like shrimp, crab, and lobsters their red pigmentation.
Several recent clinical trials have shown evidence of the potential role of astaxanthin in promoting eye health, as suggested by the significant improvement in the outcomes of various ocular diseases including diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataract [R]. Astaxanthin has a higher antioxidant activity compared to other carotenoids such as alpha-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and beta-carotene.
RECOMMENDED PRODUCT Krill Oil + Astaxanthin (60 Servings)
2. Lutein And Zeaxanthin
Lutein and Zeaxanthin are specific types of carotenoids called Xanthophylls. Xanthophylls can protect your eyes from sun exposure and long-term blue light
One of the leading causes of blindness is macular degeneration, degeneration of the retina. Long-term blue-light exposure can negatively affect the sensitive parts of the eye. Studies show that the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are found in the retina can help absorb blue light.
Researchers at Harvard found that incorporating at least six milligrams of lutein in your diet a day can decrease your risk of developing macular degeneration by 43%. Increasing the amount of lutein and zeaxanthin rich foods in your diet can also help to slow or halt current eye damage and prevent your current condition from progressing. Lutein is absorbed from dietary sources, and transported in large quantities, to the macula and lens of the eye. Lutein may lower the risk of developing AMD, cataracts, and prevent advancement of mild to moderate eye disease [R]. Lutein supplements are available, however, if you include more lutein and zeaxanthin into your diet, kale contains an impressive 40,000 mcg of lutein and zeaxanthin per 1 cup serving as well as beta-carotene.
Traditionally used as a middle eastern spice, studies suggest that saffron may reduce the progression of age-related ocular disease. Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) and its main constituents crocin and crocetin, are natural carotenoids, which have been reported to possess a wide spectrum of properties, inducing anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, and neuroprotective effects. An increasing number of studies have investigated the direct mechanisms into the pathway of these compounds in order to assess their potential therapeutic use in eye diseases [R].
A 6-month randomized controlled trial, conducted at Tehran University evaluated retinal function after treatment with saffron supplementation. Sixty patients with age-related macular degeneration were randomly assigned 30mg of saffron per day, or placebo for six months. Optical coherence tomography, a non-invasive imaging technology was used to obtain high resolution cross-sectional images of the retina along with electroretinography (ERG) were performed at baseline, 3 months, and 6 months after treatment. Results showed that daily supplementation with 30 mg of saffron for 6 months may result in a mid-term, significant improvement in retinal function in patients with AMD [R].
Best Eye Health Supplements: Takeaway
The gold standard for evaluating supplements is a randomized controlled clinical trial, the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), which was initiated in 1990 by the National Eye Institute, involved 11 centers in the United States and enrolled 5000 patients. The study found that with a combination of vitamins c, e, beta-carotene, and zinc produced a 25% reduction in risk of progression to advanced AMD. Therefore, if you’re concerned about your eye health, including a wide variety of foods, rich in vitamins and carotenoids, like vitamin c, a, e, beta-carotene and zinc, will help reduce the progression of eye related disease. Studies also show that incorporating at least six milligrams of lutein in your diet a day can decrease your risk of developing macular degeneration by 43%. Supplementation with a high-quality multivitamin and krill oil is also recommended for optimal eye health.
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Heitmar R, Brown J, Kyrou I. Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) in Ocular Diseases: A Narrative Review of the Existing Evidence from Clinical Studies. Nutrients. 2019 Mar 18;11(3):649. doi: 10.3390/nu11030649. PMID: 30889784; PMCID: PMC6471055.
Johanna M. Seddon et al, 1994, Journal of American Medical Association 272:1413-20.
Lashay, Alireza et al. “Short-term Outcomes of Saffron Supplementation in Patients with Age-related Macular Degeneration: A Double-blind, Placebo-controlled, Randomized Trial.” Medical hypothesis, discovery & innovation ophthalmology journal vol. 5,1 (2016): 32-38.
Downie LE, Ng SM, Lindsley KB, Akpek EK. Omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids for dry eye disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2019 Dec 18;12(12):CD011016. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD011016.pub2. PMID: 31847055; PMCID: PMC6917524.
Giannaccare, Giuseppe et al. “Clinical Applications of Astaxanthin in the Treatment of Ocular Diseases: Emerging Insights.” Marine drugs vol. 18,5 239. 1 May. 2020, doi:10.3390/md18050239
Johanna M. Seddon. [academic-oup.com] Multivitamin-multimineral supplements and eye disease: age-related macular degeneration and cataract.