Look to the Future: Eye Health

Your mother was right when she told you to eat your carrots: They do contribute to eye health. That’s because carrots are loaded with beta carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A—an essential nutrient for healthy eyes. While there are genetic components to the most common eye conditions—age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, and cataracts—research has shown that nutritional and lifestyle factors can play a role in their progression. For instance, a recent study of pairs of identical twins with AMD found that the twin with the more advanced stage of the disease tended to have been a heavier smoker and the twin with the less severe condition had a history of higher dietary intake of vitamin D. To keep your vision clear and sharp into the future, exercise, avoid cigarette smoke, eat a balanced diet, and get regular eye exams (the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends an eye disease screening at age 40). Keep eating your carrots, and be sure you’re getting plenty of these other nutrients that contribute to healthy eyes: Vitamins C and E, with antioxidant properties, can help reduce the risk of glaucoma and cataracts. B vitamins, including B6 and B12, are needed for intracellular eye metabolism and may help reduce risk of AMD by 35 to 40 percent. Omega 3s have been shown to reduce the inner eye pressure characteristic of glaucoma, and may help prevent cataracts and macular degeneration as well. Supplementing with lutein and zeaxanthin (both are carotenoids—the source of color in bright plant foods) can lessen damage caused by free radicals and can significantly reduce the risk of AMD. Resveratrol, the antioxidant found in red wine, grape juice, red and purple grapes, and in supplement form, lowers the risk of developing AMD. Glutathione, an antioxidant present in the lens of the eye, appears to be significantly reduced in people with cataracts. Berries, and bilberry in particular, are excellent for eye protection. They strengthen the lining of blood vessels and may prevent cataracts and improve night vision. Zinc helps maintain eye health. Potent combo: For the best protection against AMD, the Age-Related Eye Disease Study showed that daily supplementation with 500 milligrams (mg) vitamin C, 400 IU vitamin E, 15 mg of beta carotene, 80 mg zinc oxide, and 2 mg cupric oxide can reduce the risk of developing the condition by 25 percent in five years.