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Gain Some Clarity on Supplements for Protection Against Eye Disease

Posted on August 9th, 2017

Sometimes there just isn’t enough time in the day to ensure you are eating all of the healthy nutrients you need to maintain good eye health. That’s likely why taking supplements to prevent eye disease in later stages of life has increased in popularity over the past two decades.  


Eye health supplements are designed to add to a healthy diet. Don’t be misguided by assuming taking vitamins can replace a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and limited sugar and junk food intake. Relying on vitamins instead of nutrient-dense eating feeds serious nutritional shortcomings, so be cognizant of what benefits a vitamin is touting.


While there is a lot of misguided information out there, research has shown some vitamins are beneficial for maintaining eye health and good vision.


What to look for

As vision supplement research continues, we do know that boosting your diet with a daily eye-healthy vitamin that contains many, if not all, of the following ingredients is beneficial. These vitamins and nutrients can aid in reducing inflammation and oxidative changes associated with the development of degenerative diseases, including chronic and age-related eye problems. However, they are in no way alternatives to treatment for any eye disease:


  • Vitamin A and beta-carotene. Vitamin A (and its precursor, beta-carotene) is needed for night vision, healing, and proper functioning of the immune system. Though supplemental beta-carotene has been associated with greater risk of certain cancers among smokers and previous smokers, obtaining a healthy amount of beta-carotene from natural food sources does not appear to elevate this risk.
  • Vitamin B complex (including vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12 folic acid, biotin, and choline). B complex vitamins may help reduce chronic inflammation and prevent elevated homocysteine levels in the blood, which have been linked to vascular problems affecting the retina. B vitamins may reduce the risk of macular degeneration and in the treatment of uveitis, a common cause of blindness.
  • Vitamin C. The powerful antioxidant is associated with reduced risk of cataracts.
  • Vitamin D. Vitamin D is linked to a lower risk of AMD.
  • Vitamin E. Another component of AREDS and AREDS2 supplements, vitamin E has been associated with reduced risk of cataracts in other studies.
  • Lutein and zeaxanthin. These carotenoids and macular pigments may reduce the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts.
  • Phytochemical antioxidants. Plant extracts, such as those from ginkgo biloba and bilberry, contain phytochemicals, which appear to provide protection from oxidative stress in the entire body, including the eyes.
  • Omega-3 essential fatty acids. Although not a way to prevent AMD, these nutrients may reduce the risk of dry eyes.
  • Bioflavonoids. Found in fruits and vegetables, bioflavonoids may help the body absorb vitamin C for higher antioxidant efficiency.


While dietary supplements are safe to use, if you are pregnant, nursing, or taking blood thinners, speak to your doctor before using any type of nutritional supplements. Always make sure to follow recommended dosage instructions on the bottle to reduce the risk of a negative reaction.


The possibility of reducing risk of AMD with a pill

The National Eye Institute opened an Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), reporting in 2001 that a nutritional supplement called the AREDS formulation can reduce the risk of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The original AREDS formula contained vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, zinc, and copper.


Exploring the outcomes

Later in 2006, a second study was initiated to determine if they could improve the formulation. They tested adding the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, adding omega-3 fatty acids, removing beta-carotene, and lowering the dose of zinc.


By 2013, the NIH determined that lutein and zeaxanthin may be helpful, but omega-3 did not have a positive effect over five years.


“Millions of older Americans take nutritional supplements to protect their sight without clear guidance regarding benefit and risk,” said NEI director Paul A. Sieving, M.D., Ph.D. “This study clarifies the role of supplements in helping prevent advanced AMD, an incurable, common, and devastating disease that robs older people of their sight and independence.”



The study results provide physicians and patients with new information about preventing vision loss from AMD. People over the age of 60 should get a dilated eye exam at least once a year and should discuss with their eye care professional whether taking AREDS supplements (i.e., daily high doses of vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and the minerals zinc and copper) is appropriate.


The studies also emphasize the fact that eye supplements are designed to add to, and not replace, nutrients obtained from a healthy diet. Taking dietary supplements cannot completely make up for nutritional deficits from a poor diet, which are associated with many serious health problems, including vision loss.


If you have questions about your vision health and what supplements may be beneficial, find an FYidoctors location near you to schedule an appointment with one of our professionals.