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You want to protect your eyesight—we all do! But what can we do to protect our eyes, what vitamins, minerals, herbs and supplements are good for our eyes, and do they work?
As always, the first step in eye health is a good, solid and nutritious diet.  Eat loads of fruit, vegetables, whole grains (complex carbohydrates) and nuts.  Keep your diet low in animal fat, high in fish, low in sugar and low in added salt (As an aside, because more people are reducing their salt intake—I suspect that they are also reducing their iodine intake.  Iodine is required for thyroid function.  So, if you reduce salt, make sure you are getting a source of iodine in place of iodized table salt—seas salt is a good choice—it is lower in sodium and contains other trace essential minerals.).
The second step is to get regular eye check-ups. Some eye disorders have few or no symptoms, so regular check-ups are the only way to catch them. If you need vision correction, make sure you are wearing the correct prescription.  To maintain healthy eyes, you also need to monitor your blood pressure and how you handle sugar.  If you are maintaining the diet above, diabetes is less likely, but you want to check your blood sugars regularly.  The leading causes of blindness and low vision in the United States are eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. 1 Macular degeneration is a loss of central vision—there are two types of AMD—wet and dry. Diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of blindness in the US, is a problem of the blood vessels in the retina related to long-term high blood sugars. Diabetic retinopathy is a serious problem. Cataracts are a clouding-over of the lens of the eye and are usually treated surgically. Glaucoma is usually associated with increased pressure in the fluid of the eye.

Supplements for healthy eyes

The American Optometric Association recommends a diet high in anti-oxidants. 2 These include lutein and zeaxanthin (found in veggies….), Vitamin C (found in fruits…) and Vitamin E (found in nuts…), omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish…) and zinc (found in whole grains…). These suggestions, in part, resulted from a study undertaken on Age-Related Eye Diseases (AREDS). 3 This study found benefits in supplementing vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, zinc, and copper in reducing the progression of macular degeneration. Another study4  found that supplementing a diet with lutein/zeaxanthin, B vitamins, zinc and DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid) decreased the risks of AMD.  This study, however, found inconsistent results for supplementing with beta-carotene and Vitamin E. Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoid pigments found in the eye, and studies have indicated a benefit in consuming these substances either in foods or as a supplement. 5  Also, another study correlated poor blood sugar control to an increased risk of AMD and suggested that a low glycemic diet, rich in the fruits and vegetables containing some of these nutrients, could decrease the risk of AMS. 6  Yet another study looked at the influence of the omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) and found that eating fish high in these oils protected against macular degeneration and lead to better eye health.  

So, the evidence would suggest that the supplements that work best for eye health7 are:

  • Anti-oxidants such as Vitamins C and E
  • Carotenoids such as lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotenes
  • Omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA
  • Essential minerals such as zinc and copper
  • B vitamins—often, it is best to take a mixture of B vitamins—the B-complex formulas.

Herbs for healthy eyes

There are also a number of herbs which have shown benefit for eye health. Bilberry can be ingested.  Eyebright, Camomile and Goldenseal can be used as compresses on sore, tired or inflamed eyes.

  • Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) was used by British pilots during WWII because they felt it improved their night vision. Later studies confirmed the benefit and indicated that the bioflavenoids in bilberry acted as anti-oxidants and increased the strength of capillaries in the retina. 8
  • Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) is specific for the eyes, as its name attests. It is used specifically to treat eyes bothered with profuse, watery secretions or an abundant flow of acrid mucus material.
  • Chamomile (Matricaria recutitia) is an anti-inflammatory herb and can be used as a compress.
  • Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is also an anti-inflammatory herb and can be used as a compress.

To make an herbal compress, teabags containing the herb are usually most convenient.  Soak the teabag in boiled water, allow it to cool and place it over the affected eye(s). Another approach is to take loose herb, soak in water and use a cotton pad soaked in the water to place over your eyes.

Healthy eyes are an important part of your health.  Eat a healthy, low glycemic diet, get your eyes checked, make sure your blood pressure is under control and use the herbs and supplements listed to ensure your healthy eyes for the future!

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  • 3. Hammond BR Jr, Johnson MA., The age-related eye disease study (AREDS). Nutr Rev - 01-SEP-2002, 60(9): 283-8
  • 4. Johnson EJ, Age-related macular degeneration and antioxidant vitamins: recent findings. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care - 01-JAN-2010, 13(1): 28-33
  • 5. Carpentier S, Knaus M, Suh M., Associations between lutein, zeaxanthin, and age-related macular degeneration: an overview. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr - 01-APR-2009, 49(4): 313-26
  • 6. Kaushik S, Wang JJ, Flood V, Tan JS, Barclay AW, Wong TY, Brand-Miller J, Mitchell P., Dietary glycemic index and the risk of age-related macular degeneration. Am J Clin Nutr - 01-OCT-2008, 88(4): 1104-10
  • 7. Augood C., et al, Oily fish consumption, dietary docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid intakes, and associations with neovascular age-related macular degeneration. , Am J Clin Nutr - 01-AUG-2008, 88(2): 398-406
  • 8. Canter PH, Ernst E., Anthocyanosides of Vaccinium myrtillus(bilberry) for night vision--a systematic review of placebo-controlled trials. Surv Ophthalmol - 01-JAN-2004, 49(1): 38-50
  • Photo courtesy by orangeacid on Flickr: