Eye health isn’t the sexiest of healthcare topics. While your doctor might help you better understand how to reduce your risk of heart attack, it’s rare that one’s Ophthalmologist starts talking dietary change. Vision, for the majority of people, makes up a majority share of their experience of the world around them. Learning some simple dietary discipline can go a long way in supporting better eye health.
The Science of Eye Health
When it comes to health-related research, nutritional studies often take a backseat. Studies for pharmaceutical solutions for serious illness receive much of the corporate funding and spotlight. Still, there’s plenty of research out there to spark a serious conversation for many nutrition-based approaches for supporting health, including eye health.
Among the most-robust bodies of data are the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS) studies—AREDS and AREDS II. These studies investigated the influence of several nutritional compounds in the development and progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Common contributing factors affecting AMD are age, race, genetics, and smoking (shown to double the risk.)
The first AREDS study was conducted in 2001, followed by the second in 2006. The first study concluded with a recommended nutritional supplementation protocol to reduce the risk of AMD. The second study aimed at improving that formulation based on the addition of antioxidants such as omega fatty acids, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
The first AREDS study involved approximately 4,700 participants and drew several useful conclusions in helping to understand the development, progression, and nutritional components of AMD. Researchers investigated the impact of the following nutrients:
- Zinc (as Zinc Oxide)
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Copper (as cupric oxide)
The second AREDS study was completed in 2011, following a 5-year observation period which involved “more than 4,000” participants. In addition to the nutrients investigated during the first study, researchers added in the following for investigation:
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Supplements for Supporting Eye Health
The insights gained by each of the AREDS studies was invaluable in helping formulate a natural, nutritional system to support eye health. Each of the compounds found to slow the progression of or address the severity of, AMD are available as dietary supplements. There are many AREDS Supplements available that contain the exact ingredients in the exact amounts that are recommended in the conclusions brought forth by the AREDS studies. It’s worth-while to understand each better to have a good idea of how they work together.
Zinc’s role in eye health isn’t that dissimilar from its role in supporting human health in general. It’s involved in many enzymatic processes that produce antioxidant compounds such as superoxide dismutase, plays a role in the development of cellular membranes, and is even involved in nerve signaling.
Vitamin C is an incredibly important compound in the human body. It’s required for the production of collagen, bone, and even blood vessels. Among these invaluable roles, Vitamin C is also one of the most potent antioxidants used by the human body. This antioxidant role helps protect various components of our bodies such as proteins, fats, carbohydrates, DNA, and (you guessed it!) our eyes!
Vitamin E is an umbrella term that describes a family of eight fat-soluble antioxidant compounds. Perhaps the most common compound found in Vitamin E supplements is alpha-Tocopherol. This compound is integral in the building of skin tissues and cellular membranes such as those found in the eye. It’s worth noting also that Vitamin C can help regenerate Vitamin E levels and the two are often found together in many dietary supplements.
Beta-Carotene is the compound responsible for the orange color of carrots. The beta-carotene content of carrots is also why we, as children, are often told to that carrots are “eye food.” This compound has shown to be a powerful antioxidant but also to increase the risk of cancer in some cases with prolonged use. This increase is thought to be related to the powerful antioxidant action.
High levels of Zinc are associated with copper deficiency. When supplementing with zinc, it’s a good idea to ensure adequate levels of copper are available. This is easily accomplished by supplementing a small amount of copper in one’s diet. This copper-zinc pairing was found to be advantageous by AREDS’ researchers.
These compounds are found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale and are members of the carotenoid family (Vitamin A.) Of all the carotenoids found within human cellular tissue, only Lutein and Zeaxanthin are found in eye tissue. These compounds have been found to lower risk of age-related AMD in studies other than AREDS I & II.
Omega-3 fatty acids describe a family of compounds that exhibit strong antioxidant activity (among other benefits.) Among these compounds are DHA and EPA which provide benefits for both the retina and the neural pathways associated vision. There isn’t as much dietary reference information for Omega-3 fatty acids compared to other nutrients such as magnesium or zinc, but the FDA’s current RDA is around 3 grams per day.
Additional Compounds for Eye Health
In addition to the compounds researched by the AREDS studies, many other noteworthy compounds have demonstrated benefits for eye health. These compounds are continuing to amass as researchers further our understanding of the eye’s nutritional needs. While new compounds continue to be discovered with new science, they are often included in supplements along with compounds from the AREDS study lists.
For example, the Saffron 202 by Persavita contains 20mg of saffron extract which has been found to have benefits for eye health and visual acuity. In addition to this compound, Saffron 2020 also contains Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Zinc, Copper, and Lutein. This product is an excellent example of the combination of existing research into eye health and the most recent breakthroughs in scientific understanding.
Nutritional research is often hard to come by, especially when it concerns how to prevent disease. Studies such as the AREDS I & II should be given heavy consideration considering the strength of their data. Certainly, their conclusions should be held in mind when shopping for eye supplements. The compounds detailed here are only a few of those that have demonstrated a benefit for eye health, but they have the strongest bodies of research in their support.