• 30 JUL 17
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    Should you take supplements for eye health?

    Should you take supplements for eye health?

    For every condition, there is a vitamin or a nutraceutical – or so it would seem on a visit to your local health food store! Since most of the capsules, pills and tinctures promise to improve health in some specific way, should you be taking one (or more) supplements each day to maintain and improve the condition of your eyes? It’s a question that has been studied by experts in recent years, as the impact of various nutrients on eye development and function continues to be researched along with causes of, and treatments for, the most common ocular diseases.

    Supplements that may support the aging eye

    As we age, our risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) increases. Fortunately, along with conventional treatments, certain inexpensive vitamins have also been identified that can slow down the process of macular degeneration: The AREDS vitamins, so named after the studies that obtained and refined the research data around these nutrients. AREDS vitamins contain antioxidants and other nutrients that can help stave off the aging process for the eyes – at much higher doses than those found in an ordinary multivitamin. There are two versions of the AREDS vitamins: the original, which contains

    • 500 milligrams of vitamin C
    • 400 International Units of vitamin E
    • 15 milligrams of beta-carotene (or 25,000 International Units of vitamin A)
    • 80 milligrams of zinc as zinc oxide
    • 2 milligrams of copper as cupric oxide (copper is necessary to prevent copper deficiency anemia, which could occur as a result of consuming high levels of zinc)

    And the AREDS 2 formula, which was developed later and contains all of the above except the beta-carotene – which, because it can increase the chances of developing lung cancer in high doses, was contraindicated for smokers – and also adds 10 milligrams of lutein and 2 milligrams of the eye-healthy antioxidant zeaxanthin.

    It’s important to note that no evidence exists to suggest that taking AREDS vitamins will actually prevent the onset of AMD; it has been shown to slow the disease progression and severity in people who already have the disease.

    Supplementation for other eye conditions

    Apart from AMD, where most of the studies have been focused, there is little evidence that taking supplements can help with specific eye conditions or prevent them from developing in the first place. One supplement that may help people with dry eyes is Omega-3, the fatty acids found in oils from coldwater fish like salmon (and other marine sources, such as shrimp and krill). These long-chain fatty acids are closely linked to proper eye development in utero and correct cell function. However, eye doctors like Richard Gans, MD usually recommend that patients obtain Omega-3s and antioxidants from food sources wherever possible, which provide the best bioavailability and absorption because of the other nutrients they also contain. Eating at least two servings of coldwater fish like sardines, salmon, halibut and herring each week is said to provide sufficient Omega-3s.

    Your bottom line on supplements and eye health

    If you are eating a diet that you already know is very low in lutein, Omega-3s or certain vitamins such as Vitamin A, which is important for retinal health – or if you have been diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration already – supplements may be a good idea; but despite the widespread availability of such vitamin formulas, you should to speak with an optometrist first before embarking on a new course of supplements. Depending on your health history and other factors, a dietary change, rather than supplementation, may be indicated.

    Not sure whether the vitamins you’re currently taking are doing anything for your eyes? Book an appointment to discuss nutrition with an eye specialist at one of our downtown Toronto optometrist locations.

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