Best Eye Vitamins Fend Off Ocular Disease

An over-the-counter supplement could prevent an estimated 330,000 cases of advanced macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in the U.S., over a five-year period, according to a study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology in November 2003. Macular degeneration is a progressive breakdown of the macula, or focal center of the retina. The supplements, which contain zinc, copper, and three strong antioxidants--beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E--appear to be the only proven way to help keep the disease from progressing to serious vision loss.

The National Eye Institute, one of the National Institutes of Health, recommends the pills for people who have risk factors plus early signs of macular degeneration. Those factors include being 55 or older, having a family history of the disease, smoking, being Caucasian, and having high blood-cholesterol levels. If you have one or more of those risk factors, particularly family history, have an ophthalmologist examine your eyes regularly for macular degeneration. If you have any signs of the disease, ask whether you should start taking the supplement.

There are some cautions, however. The pills should be taken indefinitely, but their long-term effects are not fully known. They contain moderately large doses of vitamin E, which can increase bleeding, so discuss that risk with your eye doctor if you're taking anti-clotting medication. And although smoking is a risk factor, smokers should not take the supplements because beta-carotene may increase their chance of developing lung cancer.

Even if these supplements aren't for you, eye experts recommend eating a diet rich in most of the same vitamins and minerals and also low in saturated fat, the artery-clogging kind found mainly in fatty meat and dairy foods. Some but not all observational studies have linked such diets with reduced risk of macular degeneration. Consuming five to nine servings a day of fruits and vegetables should provide lots of beta-carotene and vitamin C, and eating lean meat, low-fat dairy products, legumes, nuts, and seeds supplies plenty of zinc and some vitamin E. In addition, kale, collard greens, Swiss chard, spinach, and red pepper are good sources of lutein, an antioxidant cousin of beta-carotene that some research suggests may also help slow macular degeneration.

Related Links


The American Academy of Ophthalmology - San Francisco, California

American Academy of Optometry - optometric organization

American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery - cataract and refractive surgeon organization

Eye Vitamins - high dose nutritional supplements

Macular Degeneration Treatment - prevention and treatment of AMD

Lutein and Zeaxanthin - carotenoids that work with anti-oxidants