Dietary supplements to support eye health have gained traction among healthcare providers and eye specialists. But not every supplement is the same
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
If you experience vision problems or feel concern that you could, a dietary supplement may be helpful. However, it’s not as easy as popping a pill every day.
Not every supplement is as good as another. And supplements for vision can have different uses.
Dietary supplements to support eye health have gained traction among healthcare providers and eye specialists with good reason, as larger bodies of evidence have emerged supporting the helpfulness of eye supplements. Laura Vreeland, registered dietitian at Syracuse VA Medical Center, said that some of her patients’ eye doctors have recommended dietary supplements for supporting eye health.
“It’s different of what’s in your regular multivitamin,” she said.
Most stores carry general “eye support” formulas in their supplement aisle, but more specific supplements may be more helpful in addressing particular concerns. Formulas related to macular degeneration have become more popular as research has shown supplements are helpful in slowing the condition. Macular degeneration is a progressive eye condition that causes permanent loss of central vision. More than one in three adults 75 and older will experience macular degeneration. The condition causes deterioration of the central part of the retina at the back of the eye.
Vreeland advised looking for a supplement containing lutein, trans-zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin as active ingredients.
“Fish oil is in another ingredients in eye supplements,” she added.
In addition, she promotes a balanced diet that includes leafy green vegetables, eggs, fish and a variety of fruits to support vision health.
Laurel Sterling, registered dietitian, certified nutritionist and educator with Carlson Laboratories
in Canastota, explained why lutein and zeaxanthin are usual ingredients in vision supplement formulas.
“They are carotenoids, which are found in fruits, vegetables and other foods, and are stored in high amounts in and around the macula,” Sterling said. “Zeaxanthin is the predominant carotenoid found in the center of the macula and lutein is found in higher concentrations in the surrounding retina. They also may increase macular pigment density, which is associated with healthy retinas and vision.”
In addition to promoting healthy retinas and vision, zeaxanthin and lutein are antioxidants. Sterling said that they help protect vision by “filtering and blocking harmful UV sunlight and digital blue light from computers, laptops, tablets, and phones, as well as providing protection stopping oxidative stress and retinal damage from free radicals.”
This action can also help prevent cataracts, a condition that causes clouding on the lens of the eye.
According to the American Optometric Association, “cataracts and age-related macular degeneration are the leading causes of visual impairment and acquired blindness in the US, affecting millions of aging Americans.”
Of course, supplements should not replace eating a balanced diet. The above listed healthful foods should be eaten as reasonable servings as part of a balanced diet low in processed foods, added animal-sourced fat, salt and sugar and moderate in overall calories.
Poor diet, smoking, unmanaged diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease raise risk of vision problems such as macular degeneration. Taking care of these issues can help mitigate risk such as genetic predisposition and advanced age. Talk with a healthcare provider about vision concerns and before making changes in diet or taking dietary supplements. Any sudden loss of vision requires immediate medical attention.