Whenever one looks at the array of vitamins and supplements in drug stores these days it always reminds us of giving our pets a pill a day to keep their coats glossy and their noses wet. But there is a serious side to supplements and that is that many scientists, doctors and subsequent controlled tests are beginning to agree that supplemented good nutrition with supplements can prevent loss of sight and reduce the effects of visual loss already experienced.
It is going to be a long time before studies can exactly calculate the success of long term ingestion of supplements but already studies from many institutions are pointing us in this direction. So why not, we ask, start taking the supplements throughout our adult life? The received understanding is that it will do no harm and more likely have a significant positive effect in our later life.
The main areas of visual loss in the ageing population are aged related macular degeneration and cataracts
Nutrition and Maintaining Good Eye Sight
Nutrition is not a panacea for all visual ills so the normal caveats apply:
- Have your eyes regularly checked by an optometrist (see our Eyecare pages)
- Stop smoking
- Lower blood cholesterol
- Ensure you protect your eyes using protective eye wear when necessary and UV 400 tinted lenses when in sunlight, plus a wide brimmed hat.
- If you wear contact lenses make sure they are hygienically placed on the eye, the lens being regularly cleaned and sterilised and the carry case being regularly replaced
- Like all health issues ensure your diet is balanced and contains fruit, vegetable and nuts plus omega 3 containing food.
So why do we need additives?
Research has shown that even when the best diets are in force some of us appear not to extract the correct levels of vitamins and supplements from our food. Much of the key chemicals required in the eye and retinal level appear not to reach their intended target and therefore the advice is to re-enforce these by taking additional targeted supplements.
It is important to discuss diet and supplements with those who understand them especially if other medicines are being taken. We find it depressing to find that there are some GPs who deny the capabilities of supplements and label them as poisons whilst many eye doctors are positively enthusiastic about their use.
NUTRITION AND ARMD
Vitamins A, C and E, beta-carotene and the mineral zinc, have been found to protect our eyes against ARMD and the loss of vision that usually occurs. Supplements such as, the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are antioxidants and the only carotenoids located in the eye, may also protect our eyes from this disease.
Vitamins A, C and E. These vitamins can be found in many different sources of fruit and vegetables such as oranges, kiwis, grapefruit, dried apricots, tomatoes, peppers, raw carrots, green leafy vegetables including kale and spinach, green peas, green beans and brussel sprouts. They can also be found in nuts, seeds, dairy products and eggs.
More recently it has been suggested that two types of antioxidants, known as ‘carotenoids’, called Lutein (pronounced Loo-teen) and Zeaxanthin (pronounced Zay-a-za-thin) may also help with eye health. Some studies have found that people who have a good diet rich in carotenoids, particularly lutein and zeaxanthin, have a lower risk of developing AMD. Lutein and Zeaxanthin can be found naturally in vegetables and fruit. For example, Lutein can be found in yellow peppers, mango, bilberries, and green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, chard and broccoli. Zeaxanthin can be found in orange sweet peppers, broccoli, corn, lettuce (not iceberg), spinach, tangerines, oranges and eggs. Many of these overlap with food types in which vitamins A, E and C are present.
The Age-Related Eye Disease Study from the National Eye Institute (NEI) is the first large clinical trial to test the effect of a high dose antioxidant vitamin combination plus zinc in preventing or delaying the progression of AMD and the related loss in vision. The antioxidant vitamins and zinc supplement reduced the risk of developing advanced AMD by about 25 percent in the study subjects who were at high risk for developing the advanced stage of this disease. In the same high-risk group, the supplements also reduced vision loss by 19 percent.
Another large research trial, called the ‘Age-Related Eye Disease Study’ (AREDS), showed that high quantities of the antioxidant vitamins A, C, E, beta-carotene and the minerals zinc as zinc oxide, and copper as cupric oxide, can help to slow down the progression of AMD. It would be very hard to obtain the large quantity of vitamins used in the trial from your diet. Therefore some people who have AMD may consider supplementation with vitamins and anti-oxidants. Such high dosages as used in this study might have possible side effects on the body; therefore it is very important to consult your doctor first before taking a supplement.
There are now available over the counter a number of products specifically targeted at retaining good vision and hopefully reducing already lost vision. One such product is Orbitol a compound based on bilberries from Sweden, containing minerals, lutein, and beta-carotene plus other trace elements providing significant antioxidant potential.
NUTRITION AND CATARACTS
Some research studies show that the antioxidant properties of vitamins C and E may protect against the development and progression of cataracts. Early evidence also suggests that the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are antioxidants, may also be protective against cataract
Some recent studies compared diet and supplement intake of the antioxidant vitamins C and E with the development of cataracts. Many of these studies have shown that these antioxidants may decrease the development or progression of this disease.
A recent analysis of results from a national dietary study (Second National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) found that higher levels of vitamin C in the diet were associated with lower risk of cataracts.
The Nutrition and Vision Project found that higher intakes of vitamin C led to a reduced risk for cortical and nuclear cataracts. Results also showed that people who used vitamin C and E supplements for more than ten years had decreased progression of nuclear cataracts.
The work carried out at Harvard suggests that targeted supplements may well be beneficial even when the most balanced diet is being employed because of the body’s aptitude to uptake and deliver to the eye the correct dose of nutrients.
There are now available over the counter a number of products specifically targeted at retaining good vision and hopefully reducing already lost vision.