By Dr. Mark Siegel
Foods rich in vitamins C and E, zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin, and omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are good for eye health as well as general health, according to the Age-Related Eye Diseases Study (AREDS), funded by the National Eye Institute, and other research. These nutrients are linked to lower risk for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataract and dry eye later in life. Choosing healthier foods is a good thing no matter how early or late in life we begin.
Eye-healthy food choices include citrus fruits, vegetable oils, nuts, whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables and fish.
People who have diabetes or AMD or are at risk for these diseases can also benefit by following a low-glycemic (low-GI) index diet. Most people with diabetes, and others who have used a low-GI diet to lose weight, are familiar with glycemic index charts. The GI value is based on how fast a food’s carbohydrates raise the body’s blood sugar levels; low GI foods have less impact on blood sugar fluctuations.
People with AMD may be able to slow the progression of the disease by taking a special nutrient supplement called the AREDS formula, developed as a result of the AREDS research (described above). The formula includes:
• Vitamin C (500 mg);
• Vitamin E (400 IU);
• Beta-carotene (15 mg);
• Zinc oxide (80 mg); and
• Copper oxide (2 mg).
This is promising news for people who are at risk for or already have AMD. But before stocking up on these supplements, be sure to talk with your ophthalmologist to learn if they are recommended for you. Some people should not take large doses of antioxidants or zinc for medical reasons.
People who smoke should ask their physician before taking the AREDS supplement, because one of the ingredients (beta carotene) has been associated with a higher risk of lung cancer in current smokers or those who recently quit. An alternate version of the supplement formulated to be safe for smokers is available. Your ophthalmologist can give you more information on this option.
Another AREDS project to evaluate the benefits of high-supplemental doses of lutein, zeaxanthin and fish oil (omega-3) is ongoing. And a large study in women showed a potential benefit from taking supplements of folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12.
As you think about ways to improve your eye health, remember: vitamins and nutritional supplements are not a cure for eye disease, nor will they give you back vision that you may have already lost. But good nutrition at all ages is vital for your entire body, and plays an important role in maintaining healthy eyes. Talk with your ophthalmologist about any concerns you have about your eye health.