Thanks to the pandemic, consumers have become all the more aware of just how difficult it is to escape the blue light they’ve heard so much about in the news—and it’s putting eye health at top of mind in ways never seen before.
The fact is, they’re convenient, incredibly-well branded, and often promise for results that no vegetable or piece of fruit ever could.
However, the research backing up their effectiveness is sketchy, to say the least.
The authors conclude that “The majority of top-selling ocular nutritional supplements did not contain the identical ingredient dosages of the AREDS or AREDS2 formula and had product description claims that lacked level 1 evidence, underscoring the importance of ophthalmologists educating their patients on the evidence-based role of nutritional supplements in the management of eye health.”
In clinical trials, the AREDS and AREDS2 formulas benefited people with intermediate or late AMD. There was no benefit for people with early AMD or for people who do not have AMD.
You don’t have to browse the internet for long to find ads for vitamins and supplements that claim to boost eye health.
Now, my drugstore and supermarket — and yours — have shelves of products that supposedly help people with macular degeneration and other supplements that “promote” or “maintain” or “protect” eye health.
Do they? Dr. Scott and her colleagues recently reviewed the ingredients and found reasons to proceed with caution.
A few nutrients can help maintain eye function, protect against harmful light and reduce the development of age-related degenerative diseases of the eye.
But more research is needed to help eye care professionals advise patients on whether they should regularly take a supplement.
“In most cases, these studies are of short duration and are too variable for us to make any solid conclusions,” says Adrienne West, M.D., a comprehensive ophthalmologist at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center.
For eyesight, a carrot's nutritional punch comes from beta carotene, a "carotenoid" the body can convert into vitamin A, according to T. Michael Redmond, chief of the Laboratory of Retinal Cell and Molecular Biology at the National Eye Institute. Vitamin A enables opsin proteins to form in "cone cells" and rhodopsin protein to form in "rod cells" near the back of the eye. Cone cells process light in daytime conditions, while rhodopsin does the same in dim light. When light hits rhodopsin or cone opsins, it creates an electric impulse that travels to the brain for interpretation, helping us see.
Vitamin and mineral supplements won’t prevent the development of age-related macular degeneration. But there is some evidence taking supplements containing vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc may slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration in those who already have it. This evidence comes from two major systematic reviews published this year, conducted by the Cochrane collaboration.
Today, more than ever, ophthalmologists are being asked to answer patients'questions about vitamin supplements and nutrition. The importance of dietand eye health is not new. The need to obtain adequate vitamin A to preventxerophthalmia and nightblindness, particularly where malnutrition is rampant,has been known for decades (reviewed by Underwood and Arthur1).More recently, interest has been directed at whether nutritional supplementsmight prevent loss of vision caused by degenerative conditions that becomemore common as we age, such as cataract and macular degeneration.
Lutein and its close cousin zeaxanthin (pronounced zee-ah-zan-thin) are nutrients found in a variety of foods, including spinach, kale, collard greens and egg yolks. Lutein naturally found in marigolds is extracted to make dietary supplements, often sold in capsule form. Dr. Chew says there is no proof that lutein supplementation improves vision appreciably in people without eye disease.
"There's clearly an effect of lutein and zeaxanthin," says Emily Chew, deputy director of epidemiology and clinical applications at the National Eye Institute, and a co-author of the study. "Beta carotene has always been troublesome,"
If you are eating your fruits and vegetables, an eye health supplement does not appear to offer any additional benefit. In fact, supplements containing a lot of beta-carotene might even interfere with your ability to get the maximum benefit from the healthy foods your diet. In my opinion, you're better off spending that money in the produce aisle or at the farmer's market.
So, if you want to improve your eyesight, I'm afraid it's munching on leafy greens (taken with some fats to help absorb these fat-soluble chemicals) that will do the best job.
Sometimes referred to as the windows to the soul, our eyes add so much to our world, yet we often forget to take measures to take care of them.