Have you ever wondered if taking vitamins could improve your eye health? What about your vision?
Or are eye vitamins a hoax, like carrots decrease the risk of needing glasses for poor vision? Here are a few truths about eye vitamins and the effect they can have on vision and the prevention of disease.
The role of vitamin D
While we may not know the extent of the role vitamin D plays in both systemic and ocular health, we know it is vital to both the skeletal and immune systems. Systemically, deficiencies in vitamin D can lead to osteoporosis, heart disease, depression, and multiple sclerosis.
Many studies also show an association between several eye conditions and vitamin D deficiency. A comprehensive review of more than 162 studies demonstrate a relationship between vitamin D and myopia, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy (DR), dry eye syndrome (DES), thyroid eye disease (TED), uveitis, retinoblastoma (RB), and cataract development.
Vitamin D deficiency is still prevalent in the United States. Recent data suggests that insufficiency and sufficiency in the U.S. is 40.9% and 34.5%. The prevalence is higher in women, non-Hispanic black Americans, people ages 20–29 years, and during the winter. If your doctor does not routinely check your vitamin D levels, it is important to ask.
Vitreous floaters are often described as grey shapes or “gnats” in the vision that change with eye movements. Floaters are a breakdown of the vitreous gel that fills the back of the eyeball. The gel breaks down and becomes more liquid with age or sooner in a patient with a high eyeglass prescription for the distance.
Until recently, there was no treatment available for patients with floaters. VitreousHealth, by the supplement company, MacuHealth, is a new blend of nutrients proven to reduce the severity of floaters. The main ingredients include zinc, vitamin C, grape seed and citrus fruit extract, and L-lysine. The supplement will decrease the floaters and the clumping of the vitreous collagen fibers to improve visual comfort. 67% of patients noticed a difference within six months of treatment. The vitamin can be ordered and shipped right from the website.
Macular degeneration is an eye condition that affects the macula, your area of central vision. The number of Americans living with macular degeneration has increased, mostly because patients are living longer.
Macular degeneration, also called ARMD or AMD, is a multifactorial disease with risk factors including older age, family history, smoking, poor diet, and hypertension. Smoking is the risk factor most associated with its development. In fact, current smokers are at a two to three times higher risk than non-smokers and the risk increases with smoking frequency.
For patients with dry macular degeneration, vitamin supplementation is recommended by doctors at the first sign of macular changes. These early changes include damage to the RPE, an important layer of the retina, and the development of drusen, extracellular deposits of lipids, proteins, and cellular debris. An accumulation of drusen will affect your eyesight causing dim or cloudy vision, difficulty seeing with changes in lighting, or a blank spot in your central vision.
Doctors recommend supplements for AMD based on the AREDs and ARED2 studies. The treatment for AMD is a supplementation of antioxidant plant pigments Lutein and Zeaxanthin, vitamins C & E, and the minerals zinc and copper.
The AREDS formula of vitamins and zinc doses is higher than in most multi-vitamin brands. When patients take this formula the risk of developing AMD is reduced by 25%. The vitamin brands, Preservision and Ocuvite are preferred and recommended by doctors.
If you have a history of smoking or are a current smoker, you should avoid a formula with beta-carotene. The ARED study determined you could have a higher chance at developing lung cancer if your supplement included beta-carotene. If you are unsure, ask your doctor which recommendation would be best for you.
Research has determined that oxidative damage plays a role in the development of cataracts. Oxidative stress and damage are caused by lifestyle factors including smoking, alcohol consumption, inadequate or inappropriate diet, and exercise.
Many antioxidant therapies including vitamin C have yielded mixed results in the prevention or delay of cataracts. High concentrations of vitamin C have been found in the eye with different levels present between nocturnal (night) and diurnal (day) animals suggesting that vitamin C protects those most exposed to light. Vitamin C deficiency is rare in the States and is thought to only affect 7% of Americans. Currently, no vitamin treatments are recommended to prevent or delay cataracts.
Dry eye disease
Vitamin supplements play an important role in the treatment of dry eye because most of us do not get enough naturally from our diet. Evolving research tends to support the idea that dry eye may be improved by taking omega-3 fatty acids or eating a diet rich in omega-3.
Omega-3s are healthy fats that are thought to lower inflammation in the body. They also give your body energy and provide function to your heart, blood vessels, lungs, brain, immune system, and endocrine system.
Studies also show that vitamin D supplementation can reduce eye inflammation, promote tear secretion, and improve the quality of tears.
Current research is looking at other vitamin therapies for the treatment of dry eye. Vitamin A gel used in combination with another drop improves the stability of the tear film and may promote healing on the cornea surface. Furthermore, high dietary intakes of vitamin C, thiamine (vitamin B1), polyunsaturated fats and calcium, were all associated with fewer reports of dry eye symptoms.
It is important to remember that the supplement industry is not regulated and what appears on the front of the bottle is not the true amount of the supplement you may receive. It is best to use a reputable brand like Nordic Naturals or HydroEye to ensure your intake is equal to the recommendation by your doctor.
Myopia control in children
Currently, vitamins are not the standard of treatment to slow a child’s glasses prescription from worsening although vitamin D may be beneficial due to the link between outdoor time and less progression.
Needing glasses for distance, also called myopia, has been associated with near work, genetics, and time spent outdoors. Studies do show that Vitamin D deficiency is common in children aged 6-12, particularly in the spring and winter. There are therapies with proven results in slowing childhood myopic progression.
For certain eye conditions like dry eye and AMD, vitamins play a significant role in the treatment or prevention of the disease. We have years of research supporting their therapeutic use. For other conditions like cataracts and myopia control, we learn more with each new study.
Vitamin D continues to play a vital role in our systemic and ocular health and most of us are deficient. In order to make sure you get enough vitamin D for your body to function properly, consult with your primary doctor.