Should You Take Supplements for Your Eyes?

When it comes to nourishing your vision, a good diet trumps dietary supplements–for most of us.

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If you're a baby boomer, you probably worry about your eyes. According to one survey, more than half of boomers are concerned about losing their vision to age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma and cataracts. Yet most don't know that their diet is a powerful way to nourish healthy peepers. "The eye is particularly susceptible to oxidative damage, due its exposure to light and high metabolism," says Sharecare Advisory Board member Janis Jibrin, MS, RD. But a healthy diet can help protect your eyes from dry eye, cataracts, glaucoma and AMD. And when it comes to nourishing your vision, a good diet trumps dietary supplements–for most of us.

Vitamins A, C and E

2 / 8 Vitamins A, C and E

Vitamin A deficiency is linked to night blindness, which can lead to actual blindness. But that's pretty rare in the United States, says Jibrin. Vitamin A is found in animal foods like egg yolks, milk and fatty fish. And your body converts alpha and beta carotene–found in orange and dark green fruits and vegetables–into vitamin A. Vitamin C improves the function of cells in your retina and helps protect your eyes from environmental damage. Best C sources: one medium red bell pepper (152 mg), two kiwi fruit (140 mg), 1 cup of orange juice (124 mg) or a cup of strawberries (100 mg). Nuts and seeds, especially almonds and sunflower seeds, are rich in vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant

Get Your Zinc

3 / 8 Get Your Zinc

This trace mineral is powerful stuff when it comes to your eyes. Zinc supports your body's immunity and cell growth and helps prevent macular degeneration. The best dietary source, by far, is oysters, which have 77 mg per 3 ounces (a half-dozen Eastern oysters or two Pacific oysters). That's up to 9 times the recommended daily allotment. Other sources include beef, dark-meat turkey and legumes, such as black-eyed peas, chickpeas and lima beans.

Focus on Lutein and Zeaxanthin

4 / 8 Focus on Lutein and Zeaxanthin

These two antioxidant carotenoids help reduce oxidative stress in the eye and protect your eyes from UV damage. "Studies show that people whose diets are richest in these phytonutrients are at lower risk for AMD," says Jibrin. So how can you get some? When it comes to lutein and zeaxanthin, think gold and green. Dark leafy greens–especially cooked and eaten with a little fat to make the antioxidants more bioavailable–are a great source. For example, a half-cup of cooked kale has 13 mg of these nutrients. You can also load up on spinach, chard or collard greens. A cup of corn kicks in about 1 mg per cup. And gorgeous persimmons? You'll get about 1.4 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin per fruit.

Lovely Lycopene

5 / 8 Lovely Lycopene

Lycopene is an antioxidant that lends fruits and vegetables their rich, red color. It helps protect cell membranes, and there's some preliminary evidence that consuming plenty of lycopene-rich foods may help prevent cataracts. Cooking, and a little fat (like olive oil), helps make that lycopene easier for your body to absorb. And cooked tomatoes (especially canned, low-sodium or no-salt-added tomato products) are a great source. So bring on the marinara sauce!

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

6 / 8 Omega-3 Fatty Acids

"When it comes to fish, your mom was right," says ophthalmologist Anne Sumers, MD, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish–docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)–are potent anti-inflammatories that may help reduce the risk of macular degeneration and glaucoma. Eating fish once a week can cut your AMD risk by 42 percent. Choose fatty, cold-water seafood, such as wild salmon, Arctic char and black cod, which are richest in omega-3s. For a plant-based option, try flax-seed oil, a good source of an omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) that can ease the symptoms of dry eye, says Sumers.

A Smart Supplement–for Some

7 / 8 A Smart Supplement–for Some

While food should be your first source of nutrition for healthy eyes, there is one dietary supplement created specifically for people with intermediate macular degeneration. Developed for the long-term Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), the recently reformulated AREDS 2 supplement has been found to reduce the risk of developing advanced macular degeneration by 18-25 percent. It's a special formulation of high-dose antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, lutein, zeaxanthin and zinc. But remember, this supplement has only been found effective to prevent progression of macular degeneration in people who already have it. If you don't have AMD, get these nutrients from your diet.

Give Obesity the Slip

8 / 8 Give Obesity the Slip

Many of us try to eat a healthy diet to manage our weight. Turns out, that's good for our eyes, too, says Jibrin. Not only does obesity boost the risk for heart disease and other illnesses, but it also raises the risk for AMD and glaucoma. Even better, maintaining a healthy weight–or losing weight, if you need to–helps prevent type 2 diabetes, which is a leading cause of blindness due to diabetic retinopathy. A diet rich in whole foods (and light on processed food) is also lower in sodium, which helps prevent hypertension (yep, that's bad for your eyes, too).

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