Your eye health – from your vision to problems like dryness and infections – can be impacted by all sorts of factors, including your age, diet, family history and even your blood pressure.
The good news is there’s clear evidence that certain vitamins, minerals and fatty acids are beneficial for your eye health. Getting enough antioxidants – compounds in fruits and vegetables that protect cells against damage – can also help your body better cope with the ageing process, including your eyes.
That’s why following a healthy lifestyle and eating a balanced diet can be helpful, even in the case of eye conditions where the exact causes aren’t fully understood. That includes age-related macular degeneration, which is common in the over-50s and causes central loss of vision.
If you’re not sure whether you’re getting everything you need through your diet, you might want to consider boosting your eye health through taking certain supplements.
How flaxseed oil helps your eye health
Flaxseed oil, derived from the seeds of the flax plant, is one of the most concentrated plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids. It’s also a natural source of omega-6 and omega-9 oils.
Omega-3 and omega-6 are essential fatty acids that the human body needs to function healthily, but which it can’t produce by itself – that’s where the food that we eat, and any supplements we take, come into the picture.
Omega-9 can be produced by your body, but it’s still beneficial to have sources in your diet, such as nuts and seeds, or you could consider taking a supplement.
Having the right levels of all these omega fatty acids in our bodies is linked to better overall health – and eye health, specifically.
Day-to-day (and regardless of whether or not you’ve been crying), the front part of your eye is covered by a film of ‘tears’. This mixture of oil, water and mucus forms a layer across the surface, and prevents your eyes from becoming dry or damaged. Some research has suggested taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement may reduce the symptoms of dry eyes by improving tear film quality.
Additionally, having the right levels of omega-3 fatty acids in your body might help reduce the risk of diabetic retinopathy (a complication of diabetes that can cause blindness if left untreated). Essential fatty acids might also help the fluid inside the eye drain away properly. This could lower the risk of glaucoma, where the pressure inside the eye becomes too high and causes damage.
Zinc helps protect your eyes from UV light
Zinc is an essential mineral that supports many normal functions in the human body – including your eye health.
Specifically, zinc helps maintain a healthy retina, cell membranes and protein structures in the eye.
In particular, zinc plays a vital role in helping vitamin A travel from the liver to the retina to produce melanin, the pigment that helps protect our eyes from damaging ultraviolet light.
There is also some evidence to suggest that zinc might help slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration and reduce loss of vision acuity (or sharpness), though more research is needed to confirm these benefits.
Food sources of zinc are varied and include nuts, seeds and legumes (including beans, peas and lentils), as well as meat and shellfish. That means you can have a zinc-rich diet even if you’re vegan or vegetarian. However, if you don’t feel you’re getting enough zinc, you might want to consider a good quality zinc supplement. We’d recommend Nature’s Truth Zinc.
Bilberry might help support eye health
Bilberries have been used medicinally since the Middle Ages. This nutrient-rich little fruit, which is packed with antioxidants, looks very similar to a blueberry.
It’s thought that consuming bilberries might help reduce symptoms of dry eyes and eye fatigue, while studies suggest bilberry extract may be beneficial to those suffering with glaucoma. However, more robust research is needed to confirm these benefits.
Part of the reason bilberries may be good for our health is that they help fight inflammation, linked to many diseases in the body. Plus, evidence suggests consuming them might help lower blood sugar levels (high blood sugar is linked to eye problems including blurry vision in people with diabetes).
If you can find them, bilberries taste just as good as blueberries. But as they aren’t commonly available in most supermarkets, some people choose to take a regular botanical bilberry supplement instead.
Vitamin A really does help you see in the dark
Naturally found in food sources such as cheese, eggs and fish, vitamin A is a group of antioxidant compounds, and an essential vitamin that our bodies need in order to maintain normal vision. (It also supports our immune system and bone health.)
In particular, vitamin A helps to protect the cornea, the clear outer surface of the eye. It also supports your eyes so you can see even in dim light conditions.
In conjunction with other essential vitamins and minerals, it’s thought that vitamin A might also help to slow the effects of age-related macular degeneration.
As well as cheese, eggs or fish, you can get vitamin A in your diet through fruits and vegetables that contain a red-orange pigment called beta-carotene – which our body then converts into vitamin A. Foods high in beta-carotene include carrots – meaning their reputation for improving your eyesight and helping you see in the dark really is founded in science. It’s also found in sweet potatoes, butternut squash and red peppers.
If you don’t think you’re getting enough vitamin A through your diet, you might want to consider taking a supplement.*
Keen to better support your eye health? Shop eye health supplements here
*If you’re pregnant, you should avoid taking vitamin A supplements.