When I was growing up, my mother always told me to eat my carrots.
Carrots are great for your eyes, she would say. They’ll help you see well at night.
Today, I know she was absolutely right. The beta-carotene in carrots is essential for eye health.
But it turns out that the link between nutrition and eye health doesn’t end there. In fact, we can prevent a whole host of vision problems through a healthy, balanced diet—along with a few key supplements.
Below, I’m going to review a few common eye problems that pose growing risks as we age. I’ll pay special attention to those most influenced by nutrition.
And then, I’m going to tell you exactly what you can eat to keep those potential problems at bay.
How Good Eyes Go Bad
Loss of eyesight or blindness is actually the greatest risk facing an aging population. More people lose vision than lose hearing, or face gaps in their memory.
Sadly, almost everyone will struggle with some form of vision problem as they grow older. Some of the most common reasons are:
Macular degeneration. If the onset of symptoms occurs after age 60, this is called age-related macular degeneration (ARMD). Either way, with this condition, the rod cells in the eye die off, and vision becomes permanently impaired. Macular degeneration is the most common cause of blindness in America’s seniors.
Genetics and age are the primary culprits. But outside influences—like smoking, a high-fat diet, or a lack of antioxidants—play a role as well.
However, proper nutrition can cut the risk of macular degeneration up to 25%. I’ll talk about this more later.
Diabetic retinopathy. Caused by both Type I and Type II diabetes, this condition occurs when weakened vessels leak blood into the retina.
No matter what type of diabetes you have, this condition can easily be avoided through proper nutrition alone. Unlike the rest of the conditions on this list, diabetic retinopathy is almost entirely influenced by blood sugar. Control your sugar intake, and you shouldn’t need to worry about this.
Cataracts. If you live long enough, you are virtually guaranteed to get cataracts, or cloudy lenses, at some point in your life. They occur in about 40% of people age 50-65, 60% of people over the age of 66, and 90% of people over the age of 90.
Once you’ve got cataracts, the only real solution is surgery. However, you can prevent cataracts from forming by taking certain vitamins, which I’ll detail below.
Dry-Eye Syndrome. Most common in older age, dry eye syndrome also tends to strike in regions where malnutrition is common.
Dry-eye syndrome is exactly what it sounds like—the body’s tear ducts don’t produce enough fluid to keep the eye moist. The result can be red eyes; increased sensitivity to light, smoke, or strain; painful or inflamed eyes; or sticky eyelids.
Dry-eye syndrome usually isn’t a very threatening condition, as long as it is treated with artificial tears or other suitable lubricants. But the entire problem can be avoided with proper nutrition.
Vision-Loss or Focus Problems. These come in myriad different forms, like farsightedness, nearsightedness, astigmatism, and plenty of others.
However, proper nutrition decreases the risk of these conditions up to 19%.
Eat Your Fruits And Veggies
Taking care of your eyes can be extremely simple.
The easiest takeaway is to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, of many different colors. If you stock up on these healthy options, you’ve done most of the work already.
However, to give you the best possible chance of avoiding eye problems, I’ll drill down a little deeper.
Vitamin A is one of the greatest weapons we have. Vitamin A—and its precursor, beta-carotene—helps fight all forms of eye problem.
Please note that the recommended daily minimum allowances of Vitamin A are too small to make much of a difference in eye health.
So to keep your vision healthy, either stock up on Vitamin A-rich foods like carrots and kale, or use supplements.
However, there can be too much of a good thing. It’s possible to overdose on Vitamin A. When you supplement your intake of vegetables, make sure to stay below 3,000 mcg/day.
Over time, that amount will cause damage. But it’s easy to stay under that amount—it’s well under what’s found in supplements.
And while Vitamin A makes the largest difference, it is far from alone.
Vitamin C, Vitamin E, copper and zinc all contribute to eye health. Once more, the necessary amounts are far above the recommended minimum daily intake, so supplements are a great way to make up the difference.
Although once again, copper and zinc have upper limits. Copper shouldn’t exceed 10 mg/day—less for children or pregnant women—and zinc shouldn’t exceed 40 mg/day.
In addition, Lutein and Zeaxanthin—found in foods like kale, broccoli, and corn—can help tremendously, especially with macular degeneration.
These two chemicals help with pigmentation. The eye’s macula is colored yellow, to absorb blue light and reduce damage from the sun. Lutein and Zeaxanthin help your macula maintain a strong yellow pigment and protect your eyes.
Omega-3 fatty acids—found in fish and fish oil—also have been found to help with eye health, particularly vision loss.
Finally, I recommend everyone over 40 take CoQ10 supplements. This supplement helps counteract the effects of aging on all sorts of systems.
Often, I tell patients with heart problems to take CoQ10. But it works just as well for protecting your eyes.
All of these natural supplements, taken together, add up to a healthy set of eyes, much less likely to succumb to the vision issues that crop up with age.