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Eye Health 101

wontor_thumbby Thaddeus M. Wontor, OD – Optometrist at The Eye Center at Southwest Health

Traditionally, the humble carrot has been the oft-recommended dietary choice for maintaining long-lasting, quality vision. And while the Vitamin-A-rich vegetable is certainly not a poor choice, research over the past few decades has identified a number of other excellent sources of nutrients essential to healthy eyes.

Oral “Ocular” Vitamins

Frequently in practice we’re asked about “eye vitamins” – specifically the over-the-counter varieties ubiquitous in drug stores and grocery aisles. Common names for these vitamins include Preservision, I-caps, and Ocuvite, and many similar formulations exist under generic titles. The majority of these vitamins were developed from the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), a clinical trial intended to study the effects of certain antioxidants and minerals on eye diseases such as macular degeneration and cataracts – two ocular conditions that affect millions of Americans each year. Following its completion in 2001, and then following a second study (AREDS 2) which concluded in 2013, researchers found that adding concentrated vitamins, specifically containing the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, reduced the progression of macular degeneration in the average test subject by twenty-five percent. Furthermore, the addition and subtraction of beta-carotene, another name for the much-touted Vitamin-A, showed no effect on slowing disease. Most formulations today exclude beta-carotene from their ingredient profile. Armed with that knowledge, most eye practitioners will recommend eye-specific vitamins only to that subset of the population that research has shown us might benefit the most: those with pre-existing dry macular degeneration that may be slowed, and even then, only about a quarter of the time. Will taking an eye vitamin prevent the occurrence of age-related eye disease in an otherwise healthy eye? We just don’t know yet.

Omega Fatty Acids

Few supplements have benefited from as much scrutiny as Omega-3 and Omega-6, two fatty acids concentrated most in sources like fatty fish (tuna/salmon) and in some forms of grains, such as chia seed or flax. While important to all aspects of vision, optometrists usually recognize and recommend omega-3 supplements for their role in treating dry eye. Certain dry eye syndromes may respond favorably to daily omega supplementation, both by decreasing inflammation around the eye, as well as improving the overall quality of the tear film on the ocular surface. The American Heart Association recommends 0.5-1.0 grams per day, though up to 3 grams per day is considered safe.

Vitamin C and E

Like the antioxidants listed above, Vitamins C and E also can play a crucial role. Preliminary studies do suggest that consuming a diet rich in these antioxidants may reduce the progression rate or development of cataracts – a clouding of the eye’s crystalline lens over time. These two vitamins are easily obtained in oral supplements, but are also concentrated in a number of foods.  For vitamin C, try citrus fruits and leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale. Vitamin E is found in certain nuts, such as almonds and sunflower seeds, and produce like sweet potato and avocado.

What You Should Know

In the end, many factors determine the outcome of one’s visual system throughout their lives.  Smoking exposure, exercise, eye-protection, genetics, sunglasses wear, and of course one’s diet, may influence the level of visual acuity achievable for any given set of circumstances. But research continues to reveal that just a few alternations can add up to make a big difference. So don’t give up on your carrots altogether – just consider throwing in some wild-caught salmon or kale chips once in a while to give those eyes a boost.

Discover more about keeping your eyes their healthiest at our upcoming My Healthy Life presentation, “Life is clearly better the better you see,” on Tuesday, October 18th from 6:30 to 8:00 pm in the conference room of our new EMS Station at 1350 Eastside Road in Platteville.

And for more about eye health or to schedule an eye exam, contact The Eye Center at Southwest Health at (608) 342-2020 or visit southwesthealth.org/eyes.

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