The essential nutrients your eyes should not miss on.
Nutrition and Your Eyes
God has given us the gift of vision and we are able to enjoy this gift through our eyes which are very delicate organs of our body. Eyes constantly face the brunt of pollution, sunrays, radiations from television screens, computer screens. There is a constant process of aging with the associated oxidative stress. Therefore it becomes essential to incorporate nutrients in our diet which are healthy for our eyes. Research suggests that antioxidants reduce the risk of cataracts and age related macular degeneration.
Vitamin A & Carotenoids
Deficiency of vitamin A can lead to nightblindess, xerophthalmia including dryness of eyes and corneal ulcer formation leading to blindness. Vitamin A helps to prevent the progression of age related macular degeneration (ARMD) which is the leading cause of blindness in the world.
Smokers and those consuming alcohol need extra vitamin supplement as tobacco prevents absorption of vitamin A and alcohol depletes it from the body. However smokers should avoid beta carotene supplement as it increases the risk of lung cancer in them.
Food sources: Carrot, mango, sweet potato, papaya, cod liver oil, liver, beef.
Cooking can change the quantity of vitamin A in food as it is a heat sensitive vitamin. Frozen foods are better than canned, as canning strips away more of vitamin A from food.
Vitamin E & C
Vitamin E delays the progression of ARMD and cataract. Nuts are the best source of vitamin E.
Food sources: Mango, peanut, hazelnut, almonds, sunflower seeds.
Vitamin C helps in delaying the progression of ARMD and cataracts. Unlike other vitamins, C is not created in our body and cannot be stored for long. A diabetic, smoker and those consuming alcohol need additional supplementation of vitamin C.
Vitamin C is also a heat sensitive vitamin and therefore the quantity of vitamin C changes after cooking. Foods with vitamin C are better fresh than frozen or canned.
Food sources: Amla, citrus fruits, berries, peppers, potatoes, broccoli.
Zinc helps to absorb vitamin A and is a part of an enzyme in our body that reduces free radicals. It reduces the progression of ARMD.
Food sources: Oysters, wheat and nuts.
Selenium helps to absorb vitamin E and delays the progression of ARMD.
Foods sources: Brazil nuts, yeast and seafood like oysters
Our eyes also need bioflavonoid, which are also called vitamin P (though they are not vitamins).They are compounds that give certain foods their color, and they often work as antioxidants. The good news is that almost any food that contains vitamin C also has bioflavonoid, so no extra food-list needs to be eaten for them.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin
They are compounds called ‘xanthophylls’. These two compounds are found in the retina of our eyes especially the macula which is the central portion of our retina responsible for our fine vision. Here they function as antioxidants and help to protect from the damage caused by free radicals. They play a protective role against age related macular degeneration. In order to obtain enough lutein and zeaxanthin, be sure to eat five to nine servings of colorful fruits and vegetables everyday.
Food sources: Dark green leafy vegetables, egg yolk.
Essential fatty acids
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) make up polyunsaturated fats. The two types are omega-3 fatty acids and omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (LNA). EFAs are connected with visual development in infants. Deficiencies in adults (particularly omega-3) can cause impaired vision, and research has suggested that prolonged deficiencies might lead to retinal/macular damage. The body converts both the types of EFAs into prostaglandins, whose functions include helping the maintenance of normal eye pressure. They are also essential for the normal tear film formation.
Dietary Supplements that support healthy vision
Vitamin C-250 mg
Folic acid-800 mcg
Omega-3 Fatty acids-2000-3000 mg
Alpha Lipoic acid-100 mg
N-Acetyl cyseine-100 mg
The dietary supplements are generally safe and beneficial, however one needs to be cautious if one is pregnant, nursing, taking blood thinners (anti-coagulants) or having any other systemic illness then one needs to consult your health professional before using a dietary supplement.
In general the best source of various nutrients is through natural resources and one should eat plenty of green leafy vegetables, two servings of fish per week for non-vegetarians, some nuts and some orange or yellow fruits and vegetables.
The author, Dr. Manisha Agarwal, is a retinal consultant with Dr Shroff's Charity Eye Hospital.