Betty Chaffee, PharmD, is owner and sole proprietor of BetterMyMeds, a Medication Management service devoted to helping people get the maximum benefit from their medications.
All five of our senses are important to maintaining a good quality of life. But when vision is threatened, our independence and even our whole way of life may be at risk. Many of us want to do what we can to keep our eyes healthy, and a question that commonly comes up is whether it's useful to take vitamins marketed for eye health.
But when you go to your favorite pharmacy, you're likely to find a wide array of eye vitamins. Which one should you choose? Let's talk about which vitamins are important, and who is likely to benefit from them.
Can vitamin supplements help maintain eye health?
Well, it depends . It turns out that the best research only addressed one specific eye disorder. So let's start there.
Vitamins for Age-related eye disease
Macular degeneration (or age-related macular degeneration, AMD) is a relatively common age-related eye disorder that can lead to blindness. Scientists studied the effect of a certain combination of vitamins on the progression of AMD. The most recent study was called AREDS-2 (the Age-Related Eye Disease Study #2). People with early stage AMD were studied; some took a certain combination of vitamins and antioxidants for five years and some did not. After 5 years, those who took the supplement were far less likely to develop advanced AMD than those who did not.
The supplement combination studied, though, was quite specific. Researchers chose ingredients based on the theory that they could prevent retinal damage from light. The daily AREDS-2 formula contained:
- Lutein 10mg
- Zeaxanthin 2mg
- Vitamin C 500mg
- Vitamin E 400 units
- zinc oxide 25-80mg
- cupric oxide 2mg
Bottom line, if you are at high risk of developing progressive AMD, taking a vitamin supplement containing the AREDS-2 formula will decrease your risk of vision loss over the coming years.
The trick is finding the product that contains these exact ingredients!
As we've said before in BetterMyMeds posts, always look at the label! The three labels shown below are from common products found on the same shelf at many pharmacies. They all have different names and manufacturers, different ingredients and amounts; one shows amounts per serving AND amounts per day.
To make sure you purchase the right product, before you go to the pharmacy, write down the AREDS-2 ingredient list (with amounts) and take it with you to compare with products on the shelf. Note whether the daily amounts are contained in one tablet/capsule, or whether you have to take it more than once each day. If you're not sure (or forget your reading glasses), enlist the help of the pharmacist on duty. It takes more time to choose the right product, and it may not be the one that's on sale. But taking these steps will help you get the best value from your supplement and protect your vision.
Vitamins for healthy eyes or non-AMD eye disorders
Don't let that multitude of products on the pharmacy shelf fool you. The only conclusive research showing that supplements protect vision came from AREDS-2. If you aren't at high risk of progressive vision loss from AMD, there's no conclusive evidence that taking eye vitamins will benefit you. So what can you do to keep your eyes healthy?
Eat a healthy diet
A balanced diet, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, protein (from both meat and non-meat sources), and fatty fish like salmon or tuna on occasion will provide your body with vitamins it needs to stay healthy. It can also help you maintain a healthy weight and prevent the onset of diabetes, which is a leading cause of blindness.
If you smoke, get help to stop
Smoking increases the risk of cataracts and AMD. There's plenty of help out there if you are considering quitting. Don't give up!
Summer, fall, winter, spring. Ultraviolet light from sunshine can cause damage to eyes no matter the season, increasing the risk of cataracts and AMD. Be sure to look for high-quality sunglasses that will adequately protect you from those rays.
Rest your eyes occasionally while using your computer
Staring at a computer, phone, or tablet for long periods can exposes the eyes to dangerous amounts of light. Learn more about how the light from digital devices can affect your eyes, and how to prevent vision problems.
See your eye care professional regularly
If you don't already have a regular optometrist (OD) or ophthalmologist (MD), find one near you and make an appointment to have your eyes examined. Seeing an eye care professional regularly is key to preventing vision loss down the road.
Keep your eyes as healthy as possible!
If you have AMD or are at high risk of developing it, the AREDS-2 vitamin formula might be for you. But choose your product carefully! If you aren't at risk of AMD, you may not benefit from taking vitamins intended for eye health. As always, if you have any questions or comments, share them at the end of this article or contact us at BetterMyMeds.