If you’re over 40, chances are good that you’re regarding this article from a distance to read it. That’s because the eye’s lens system loses its flexibility with age—a condition called presbyopia—making focusing on nearby objects more difficult. “Presbyopia happens to everyone eventually,” says ophthalmologist Neal Adams, MD, director of the Collaborative Vision Research Program and author of Nutrition for the Eye (Stanley, 2009).
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, and glaucoma can also cloud vision, especially after age 60. But, Adams says, optimizing nutrition may prevent or minimize certain types of visual disease, such as AMD, and may even reverse mild cases of dry eye, a condition he says affects one in six people. If you had the perfect diet, says Jeffrey Anshel, OD, president of the Ocular Nutrition Society, you could probably get enough nutrients to keep your peepers perky. Everyone else should consider supplements. Focus on these for their promising eye-health benefits.
Lutein and zeaxanthin
Found naturally in the human eye, these two carotenoids filter out high-energy blue light from the sun that can harm the macula lutea, the part of the retina that sees detail in the center of your field of vision. Lutein and zeaxanthin supplements can act like a pair of sunglasses for the macula lutea, filtering some high-energy light exposure, lowering AMD risk, and improving visual acuity, Adams says. They also may help with night driving and computer use by improving contrast sensitivity and glare recovery. And they prevent oxidative damage, potentially thwarting dry eye and cataracts, or lens clouding, says Adams.
Dose: 6–12 mg lutein and 4–8 mg zeaxanthin daily
Since 2001, scientists have known the antioxidant effects of beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, and zinc could prevent worsening of existing, moderate AMD. Newer studies show vitamin A lowers the risk of developing more severe AMD, and vitamin E could prevent cataracts and glaucoma. “There are risks associated with high doses of vitamins A and E and zinc,” Adams cautions, and beta-carotene can compete with lutein for absorption, so check with your doctor before taking any of them.
Dose: 10–15 mg beta-carotene daily; 500–800 mg vitamin C daily, divided throughout the day; 150–200 IU vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol form); and 20–30 mg zinc daily along with 2–3 mg copper daily (because zinc can block copper absorption)
Omega-3 fatty acids
Inflammation appears to play a role in AMD. Regular consumption of fatty fish, nuts, or omega-3 supplements seems to reduce retina damage, lowering AMD. A recent study found people who took omega-3 supplements produced more tears, encouraging news for people with dry eye. DHA in fish oil also helps keep eye membranes flexible and functioning normally, says Anshel.
Dose: Eat fatty fish like wild salmon twice weekly or take 1,000 mg of omega-3 supplements daily.
“The cells of the retina use a lot of energy,” Anshel says. This compound, which is produced in the body, but at lower levels with age, keeps mitochondria healthier, so they can produce that power. It also may minimize lens-cell damage from light exposure.
Dose: 30 mg coQ10 daily, or 100–200 mg daily if you take statins, because cholesterol-lowering drugs tend to deplete coQ10 levels.
Emerging research shows the flavonoid resveratrol, found in grapes, red wine, and peanuts,may stop blood-vessel overgrowth that can lead to severe AMD. Bilberry, a European shrub with potent antioxidant berries and leaves, also may protect against retinal damage, according to recent research. When combined with the French maritime pine bark extract, Pycnogenol, bilberry may also help prevent glaucoma.
Dose: 300 mg resveratrol and 100–150 mg bilberry.