The same healthy diet that’s good for your heart and arteries can help preserve your eyes and vision.
That’s not surprising. "Vision depends on tiny capillaries that supply the retina and other parts of the eye with nutrients and oxygen," says Monique Roy, MD, a professor at the New Jersey Medical School’s Institute of Ophthalmology and Visual Science. "Keeping those arteries healthy is essential."
As part of an overall healthy diet, several key nutrients appear to be particularly important to preserving sight as we get older.
C, E, and Zinc
A decade ago, the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) reported that people given vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene, and zinc in supplements were less likely to develop advanced age-related macular degeneration, or AMD. The combination was most effective at slowing the progression from intermediate to advanced AMD, which is one of the leading causes of age-related blindness. Because of those findings, many people diagnosed with early signs of AMD today are routinely prescribed a pill that combines these nutrients.
However, the ingredients of vision supplements may change with the completion of the AREDS2 study. This study sought to see if adding other vitamins and mineral to the supplement would improve results of the AREDS. The first addition was omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil), and the second was a combination of two carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, which are found in leafy green vegetables and highly colored fruits and vegetables. The research showed:
- Beta-carotene did not reduce the risk of progression of AMD.
- Adding omega-3 to the AREDS formula did not reduce risk of progression of AMD.
- The AREDS formula was still found to be protective with less zinc added.
- People that took a formula with lutein and zeaxanthin and who may not have been taking enough in their diet showed further improve with the new AREDS formula.
- in general, people who took lutein and zeaxanthin instead of beta-carotene had more of a benefit.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin
Two other nutrients -- lutein and zeaxanthin -- are also linked to lower risk of macular degeneration and cataracts. A Tufts University study of 1,802 women 50 to 79 years old found that those who consumed the most lutein and zeaxanthin in their diets were 23% less likely to develop cataracts than those who consumed the least. Rich sources of these two compounds include kale, spinach, turnip greens, romaine lettuce, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
And the AREDS2 study (mentioned above) showed that replacing beta-carotene with lutein and zeaxanthin could improve the AREDS vision supplement formula. The supplement has been shown to lower the risk of disease progression in those with AMD.
Omega-3 Fatty Acid
The newest nutrient linked to better vision with age is omega-3 fatty acid, which is found predominantly in fish oil. In a study of 2,520 people, researchers at Johns Hopkins University reported that people who consumed fish high in omega-3s fatty acids often were significantly less likely to have advanced age-related macular degeneration. Omega-3s may also protect against cataracts, according to findings by researchers at the Clinical University of Navarra in Spain.
However, the AREDS2 study concluded there was no addition benefit after adding omega-3 to the AREDS formula of vision supplements. The supplements have been shown to slow progression of AMD in those with the disease.