Best foods for eye health

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss worldwide.1 AMD is a condition wherein the macula (central area of the retina) deteriorates with age.2 Oxidative damage to the retina is one of the causes of AMD, as the retina is subjected to oxidative stress throughout life due to constant exposure to light and oxygen.3

Both AMD and cataracts are a global public health concern. Various studies show that diet is one of the modifiable risk factors for both AMD and cataracts.

A study conducted in the US called, the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), concluded that long-term supplementation with vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and zinc reduced the risk of progression to late-stage AMD.1

Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids that are major components of macula pigment. They are proposed to have a protective role in the retina through their antioxidant properties and ability to act as a filter for blue light.1 

Research also suggests that the risk of cataracts can be reduced by diets rich in vitamin C and E, and carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin.1

Here are some of the best foods that promote good eye health.

Citrus Fruits

Fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines are rich in vitamin C. Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which is very important for eye health. Vitamin C protects the retina from oxidative damage caused by free radicals.5 According to epidemiological studies, vitamin C is also related to a lower or diminished risk of cataracts.4 Recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin C is 75 mg/day for women older than 19 years and 90 mg/day for men older than 19 years.5

Other fruits rich in Vitamin C include blackberries, blueberries cantaloupe, and papaya

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts like almonds, peanuts, and seeds like sunflower seeds are rich in vitamin E. Vitamin E in form of alpha-tocopherol is a fat-soluble antioxidant, that prevents oxidation of fats present in the human eye. It is recommended to consume 15 mg/day α-tocopherol daily, for both women and men.5

Other sources of Vitamin E include soyabeans, sunflower oil, corn oil.5

Fish

Fish such as salmon, trout, herring, sardines, tuna are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Docosahexaenoic acid (a type of omega fatty acid) is an essential fatty acid found in the retina and plays a neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory role in retinal health.6 The FDA recommends an intake of 3g of omega-3 fatty acid per day.5

Carrots

Carrots are a well know source of Beta Carotene.  Beta Carotene is a provitamin that is converted to Vitamin A by the human body.  One research study found that β-carotene along with vitamins C, E, and zinc reduced the risk of developing AMD1 and another study also showed that the participants in the study who had the highest level of vitamin A had a reduced risk of cataracts.4

Vitamin A deficiency can also lead to dry eyes and a study conducted in 2019 showed promising results with regard to the quality of tears produced after supplementation with vitamin A.7

Apricots, water squash, pumpkin, red pepper, and cantaloupe are some other rich sources of vitamin C.5

Green and leafy vegetables

Vegetables like kale, spinach, and broccoli are rich in Lutein and Zeaxanthin. Lutein and Zeaxanthin are found in the central region of the retina and have an important role as antioxidants, preventing retinal damage by absorbing the reactive oxidative species.5 Some research suggests that Lutein and Zeaxanthin may be able to slow down the progression of AMD.8

Chickpeas

Chickpeas along with other legumes and beans are rich in Zinc. A Zinc deficiency is linked with poor night vision and cloudy cataract. In one study, supplementation with zinc along with vitamin A helped in improving night vision in the study participants.9

Eggs

Eggs are rich in Lutein and Zeaxanthin. A recent study showed that participants who consumed 2-4 eggs per week had a reduced risk of developing late-stage AMD.10 Apart from Lutein and Zeaxanthin, eggs are also an excellent source of vitamin C, E, and Zinc.11

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are rich in Vitamin A and C, which are antioxidants that help in reducing the risk of developing AMD.12

A healthy diet including a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes, eggs, fish, and nuts, has many benefits and is proven to be a good source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, whose deficiency may be involved in age-related vision problems.

Preventative measures such as eating nutrient-rich food, supplements and, regular eye check-ups can prevent various eye disorders.  It is however recommended to consult your doctor before taking any supplements.

References

  1. Lawrenson JG, Downie LE. Nutrition and Eye Health. Nutrients. 2019;11(9):2123. Published 2019 Sep 6. doi:10.3390/nu11092123
  2. Evans JR, Lawrenson JG. Antioxidant vitamin and mineral supplements for preventing age-related macular degeneration. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;7(7):CD000253. Published 2017 Jul 30. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD000253.pub4
  3. Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group. 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 [published correction appears in Arch Ophthalmol. 2008 Sep;126(9):1251]. Arch Ophthalmol. 2001;119(10):1417-1436. doi:10.1001/archopht.119.10.1417
  4. Weikel KA, Garber C, Baburins A, Taylor A. Nutritional modulation of cataract. Nutr Rev. 2014;72(1):30-47. doi:10.1111/nure.12077
  5. Rasmussen HM, Johnson EJ. Nutrients for the aging eye. Clin Interv Aging. 2013;8:741-748. doi:10.2147/CIA.S45399
  6. Merle BM, Benlian P, Puche N, et al. Circulating omega-3 Fatty acids and neovascular age-related macular degeneration. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2014;55(3):2010-2019. Published 2014 Mar 28. doi:10.1167/iovs.14-13916
  7. Alanazi SA, El-Hiti GA, Al-Baloud AA, et al. Effects of short-term oral vitamin A supplementation on the ocular tear film in patients with dry eye. Clin Ophthalmol. 2019;13:599-604. Published 2019 Apr 10. doi:10.2147/OPTH.S198349
  8. Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) Research Group, Chew EY, Clemons TE, et al. Secondary analyses of the effects of lutein/zeaxanthin on age-related macular degeneration progression: AREDS2 report No. 3. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2014;132(2):142-149. doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2013.7376
  9. Christian P, Khatry SK, Yamini S, Stallings R, LeClerq SC, Shrestha SR, Pradhan EK, West KP Jr. Zinc supplementation might potentiate the effect of vitamin A in restoring night vision in pregnant Nepalese women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Jun;73(6):1045-51
  10. Gopinath B, Liew G, Tang D, Burlutsky G, Flood VM, Mitchell P. Consumption of eggs and the 15-year incidence of age-related macular degeneration. Clin Nutr. 2020 Feb;39(2):580-584. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2019.03.009. Epub 2019 Mar 16. PMID: 30914217
  11. Kuang H, Yang F, Zhang Y, Wang T, Chen G. The Impact of Egg Nutrient Composition and Its Consumption on Cholesterol Homeostasis. Cholesterol. 2018;2018:6303810. Published 2018 Aug 23. doi:10.1155/2018/6303810
  12. Willcox DC, Willcox BJ, Todoriki H, Suzuki M. The Okinawan diet: health implications of a low-calorie, nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich dietary pattern low in glycemic load. J Am Coll Nutr. 2009 Aug;28 Suppl:500S-516S. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2009.10718117. PMID: 20234038.
  13. Image by silviarita from Pixabay 

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