Unless your vision has recently changed, you tend not to give much thought to your eye health. But just like other parts of the body, it is important to support your eye health and vision, especially as you get older.
Problems that can occur with your eyes
There are several eye conditions that you can develop, all of which require medical treatment. Two of the most common problems are age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in the United States and is affects more than 10 million people. It tends to occur with aging but it can also affect younger people.
The condition occurs as a result of the deterioration of light-sensitive cells in the macular area of the retina. The retina is the part of the eye that is responsible for recording the information you see and sending that information to your brain, seeing fine details, and focusing.
Cataracts occur where there is a clouding in the lens of the eye. This means that vision can become impaired to the degree that performing daily tasks is difficult, and can become worse over time.
Cataracts are very common, particularly in older adults. It is estimated that around 20 million people in the United States have cataracts.
Risk factors for eye problems
Some people are at greater risk of developing eye problems. It is therefore particularly important to pay attention to eye health if you are older than 60, from a certain ethnic group (African-Caribbean communities are at higher risk of developing glaucoma while south Asian communities are at higher risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, as a complication of diabetes), have a learning disability, or have a family history of eye disease.
A key aspect of maintaining good eye health is having regular eye tests. These help to identify any vision issues with the eyes that might mean you need new glasses or a change of prescription.
Tests are also important for determining whether there are any health problems with the eyes.
Eye doctors can spot these problems before you’re aware of any symptoms, which means they can be treated if found early enough.
Also, eye tests indicate if there are might be other health problems, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. The eyes can tell a lot about your general health status, even if they don’t feel any different.
It is recommended to have an eye test every two years, but you should seek help immediately if you are experiencing any symptoms.
Dietary and lifestyle behaviors
Alongside having regular eye tests, several dietary and lifestyle behaviors can help to promote eye health and prevent problems.
Giving up smoking and moderating alcohol consumption are both important for eye health because smokers and heavy drinkers are much more likely to develop age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
Wearing sunglasses when it is sunny is also important because this protects your eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. It is best to choose a pair that blocks 99-100% of UVA and UVB rays and has wraparound lenses to keep your eyes safe from all angles. It is important to wear sunglasses even if you wear contact lenses that have UV protection.
ⓘ We strongly recommend that you consult with your healthcare provider before taking any supplements to ensure there are no contraindications and that they are right for you. This information is not intended to replace professional advice or meant to be used to prevent, diagnose, or treat any disease or illness.
9 Supplements That Can Support Healthy Eyes
In addition to these dietary and lifestyle behaviors, several supplements can support eye health and protect against future eye conditions.
Lutein is a carotenoid similar to pre-vitamin A (β-carotene), which plays a key role in eye health.
Carotenoids are pigments found in plants and the retina. Lutein is present in foods such as egg yolks. It is thought that lutein bioaccumulates in the eyes where it reduces oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress is when free radicals build up in the body and cause damage to cells. As an antioxidant, therefore, lutein is hugely beneficial for general health.
How does lutein support eye health?
A randomized, placebo-controlled trial found that 6 mg of lutein taken daily for 12 weeks improved visual acuity, particularly contrast sensitivity, compared with placebo (1).
A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled parallel intervention trial found that daily consumption of a dairy drink containing lutein-enriched egg yolks significantly improved visual acuity, macular pigment optical density, and plasma lutein concentration compared with placebo (2).
A meta-analysis of studies conducted on lutein supplementation and management of age-related macular degeneration concluded that lutein is beneficial for both macular pigment optical density and visual acuity, with 10 mg being the most effective dose.
How do I take lutein?
To obtain the benefits of lutein for eye health, it is recommended to take 10 mg per day. It can be taken at any time of the day and either with or without food.
Zeaxanthin, similarly to lutein, is a carotenoid and supplementing helps to increase carotenoid density in the retina.
It is one of the most common carotenoids found in nature and plays a key role in the xanthophyll cycle.
It is the pigment that gives corn, saffron, wolfberries, and several other plants their characteristic bright color.
How does zeaxanthin support eye health?
A randomized, placebo-controlled trial found that taking a supplement containing lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin in differing amounts (20 mg lutein, 2 mg zeaxanthin, 0.3 mg meso-zeaxanthin vs 10 mg lutein, 2 mg zeaxanthin, 10 mg meso-zeaxanthin vs 3 mg lutein, 2 mg zeaxanthin, 17 mg meso-zeaxanthin) daily for 8 weeks significantly improved macular pigment optical density compared with placebo (4).
A clinical trial found that consuming 6 eggs per week containing either 331 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin or 964 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin for 12 weeks significantly increased serum zeaxanthin levels, indicating protection against future eye problems (5).
How do I take zeaxanthin?
To obtain the benefits of zeaxanthin for eye health, it is recommended to supplement with 2 mg per day. As it seems to be particularly effective when taken with lutein, purchasing a combined supplement would be beneficial. It can be taken at any time of the day.
Vitamin A refers to a group of compounds that play an important role in maintaining skin health, vision, gene transcription, and immune system functioning. These compounds include retinol, retinaldehyde, retinoic acid, and provitamin A carotenoids (beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, gamma-carotene, and cryptoxanthin).
Retinol and beta-carotene are the most common forms of vitamin A found in food and supplements, with the former being found in animals and the latter in plants. Deficiencies in vitamin A can lead to impaired vision, dry skin, and poor immunity.
Different forms of vitamin A provide different benefits. For example, retinoic acid is involved in gene transcription and the maintenance of skin health, and retinaldehyde binds certain proteins to the cones and rods of the eye, which allows the eye to function in low-light environments.
How does vitamin A support eye health?
The Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS and AREDS2) were large studies conducted by the National Eye Institute, focusing on supplementation in the context of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
The AERDS found that including beta carotene in this multivitamin supplement that also contained vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc, reduced the progression of advanced age-related macular degeneration by 25% (6).
A prospective cohort study found that a high intake of carotenoids, including β-cryptoxanthin, α-carotene, and β-carotene was associated with a 25% to 35% lower risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration (7).
How do I take vitamin A?
Vitamin A is available as a supplement in the form of retinyl acetate or retinyl palmitate (preformed vitamin A), beta-carotene (provitamin A), or a combination of preformed and provitamin A.
Most multivitamin-mineral supplements contain vitamin A but it can also be taken as a standalone supplement.
Because studies have shown the benefits of supplementing vitamin A with other antioxidants, it is recommended to take a combination of an antioxidant supplement containing vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc.
Supplementation should meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) levels for vitamin A, which are 900 mcg for men and 700 mcg daily for women. Vitamin A can be taken at any time of the day and with or without food.
Check it Out: The 10 Best Vitamin A Supplements to Consider
Zinc is an essential mineral that has numerous roles in the body, including antioxidant enzymes, brain function, and the immune system. Meat, egg, and legumes are common food sources of zinc.
As zinc is lost through sweat, supplementation is also particularly important for athletes. Some conditions can also decrease zinc levels in the body, such as insulin resistance.
How does zinc support eye health?
A randomized, prospective, placebo-controlled clinical trial found that taking 25 mg of zinc twice daily for 6 months significantly improved macular functioning, including visual acuity and contrast sensitivity, compared with placebo (8).
A systematic review of randomized controlled trials, prospective cohort, retrospective cohort, and case-control studies investigating the impact of zinc on eye health concluded that zinc supplementation is effective in preventing progression to advanced may be effective in preventing progression to advanced age-related macular degeneration (9).
How do I take zinc?
Zinc has two standard dosages: a lower dosage of 5-10 mg and a higher dosage of 25-45 mg.
The lower dose is fine for general daily protection for eye health, with the higher being better for those at risk of a zinc deficiency or those more prone to eye problems.
Different forms of zinc contain different amounts of elemental zinc, which refers to the weight of the zinc molecule by itself. Zinc citrate is approximately 34% zinc by weight (a dose of 50 mg elemental zinc is equivalent to 146 mg zinc citrate).
Zinc sulfate is approximately 22% zinc by weight (a dose of 50 mg elemental zinc is equivalent to 220 mg zinc sulfate).
Zinc gluconate is approximately 13% zinc by weight (a dose of 50mg elemental zinc is equivalent to 385 mg zinc gluconate).
Zinc monomethionine is approximately 21% zinc by weight (a dose of 50mg elemental zinc is equivalent to 238 mg zinc monomethionine).
Zinc can be taken at any time of the day and with or without food.
Check it Out: The 10 Best Zinc Supplements to Consider
Omega 3-fatty Acids
There are two types of omega-3 fatty acids, both of which are important for health: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These are found in fish and algae.
EPA and DHA are involved in regulating several biological processes, including the inflammatory response, various metabolic signaling pathways, and brain function.
They can be synthesized in the body from alpha-linolenic acid (ALA but only in small amounts so it is best to consume EPA and DHA through food and supplements to ensure you get enough.
The brain and eye are highly enriched with omega-3 fatty acids, which accumulate during late fetal and early neonatal life. There are very high levels of DHA in the retina, specifically in the disk membranes of the outer segments of photoreceptor cells.
These fatty acids have several neuroprotective effects in the retina, including modulation of metabolic processes affecting oxidative stress, inflammation, and vascularization.
How do omega-3 fatty acids support eye health?
A prospective, case-control trial found that the consumption of canned tuna fish or more than four fish servings per week (both of which are high in omega-3 fatty acids) was associated with a reduced risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (10).
Another prospective, case-control trial found that diets high in omega-3 fatty acids and fish were also associated with a lower risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (11).
However, this was only true for those consuming relatively low amounts of linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid).
How do I take omega-3 fatty acids?
To obtain the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for eye health it is recommended to consume 1000 mg of combined EPA and DHA. This can be found in fish oil supplements or algae oil supplements (for vegetarians and vegans).
Intake can also be boosted by regularly consuming oily fish (2 times per week).
Other good food sources of omega-3 fatty acids are flaxseeds, walnuts, and dark green leafy vegetables.
Check it Out: The 10 Best Fish Oil Supplements to Consider
Also Consider: The 10 Best Krill Oil Supplements
Vitamin C is a water-soluble essential vitamin with antioxidant properties. It is often taken to reduce symptoms of the common cold but has a much wider range of benefits for general health, including the formation of collagen, absorption of iron, the proper functioning of the immune system, wound healing, and the maintenance of cartilage, bones, and teeth.
In terms of eye health, vitamin C is required to make collagen, a protein that provides structure to your eye, particularly in the cornea and sclera.
Vitamin C is found in high amounts in citrus and tropical fruits, bell peppers, broccoli, and kale.
How does vitamin C support eye health?
An epidemiological study found that there was a 75% reduced risk of developing cataracts when the daily vitamin C intake was above 490 mg, compared to 125 mg or less (12).
Similarly, a prospective cohort study found that taking vitamin C supplements regularly for 10 years reduces the risk of cataracts by 45% (13).
Interestingly, a benefit was not found for multivitamin supplementation, suggesting that it is most effective to take vitamin C alone, rather than alongside other vitamins.
How do I take vitamin C?
It is recommended to supplement with 500 mg of vitamin C daily to obtain the benefits for eye health.
Although the RDA for vitamin C is 100-200 mg, because it is a water-soluble vitamin, higher amounts can be taken safely because anything not used by the body is passed out via urine. Intake can also be boosted by consuming a range of colorful fruit and vegetables.
Check it Out: The 10 Best Vitamin C Supplements to Consider
Vitamin E is an antioxidant and refers to 8 molecules, which are divided into 2 categories: tocopherols and tocotrienols.
Each category is further divided into alpha (α), beta (β), gamma (γ), and delta (δ) vitamers. The vitamer α-tocopherol is considered the ‘main’ vitamer, but the gammas (γ-tocopherol and γ-tocotrienol) also provide health benefits.
Collectively, these compounds are called vitamin E. The majority of vitamin E’s benefits come from avoiding a deficiency, but there are several instances where supplementation can offer additional benefits.
The health benefits of vitamin E include supporting the immune system and enhancing the body’s antibody response to vaccinations.
It is a particularly important vitamin for the elderly because a deficiency is associated with a higher risk of bone fractures.
There is also some evidence that vitamin E may protect against age-related cognitive decline.
How does vitamin E support eye health?
A randomized, placebo-controlled, clinical trial found that taking 400 IU of vitamin E alongside other antioxidant vitamins and zinc significantly reduced the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration compared with placebo (14).
A large meta-analysis of vitamin E studies concluded that vitamin E is associated with a reduced risk of developing age-related cataracts when taken in doses of at least 7 mg per day (15). Doses lower than this did not provide benefits.
How do I take vitamin E?
To obtain the benefits of vitamin E for eye health, it is recommended to supplement with 400 IU of vitamin E daily.
This can be taken on its own or alongside other vitamins and minerals. Intake can also be boosted through consuming nuts, seeds, cooking oils, oily fish, and green leafy vegetables.
Check it Out: The 10 Best Vitamin E Supplements to Consider
Ginkgo biloba, also known as maidenhair, is a tree native to China that has been grown for thousands of years for a range of uses.
It’s the only surviving member of an ancient order of plants so it’s sometimes referred to as a living fossil.
Its leaves and seeds have a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine but modern research typically focuses on the benefits of the extract, which is made from the leaves.
How does ginkgo biloba support eye health?
A randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover trial found that 40 mg of ginkgo biloba taken three times per day for 2 days significantly increased blood flow to the eyes by 23% without significantly altering intraocular pressure compared with placebo (16).
A review of ginkgo biloba studies concluded that ginkgo is also beneficial for glaucoma, specifically in targeting the key symptoms, which include disturbed ocular microcirculation, oxidative stress, and impairment of mitochondrial function in the retinal ganglion cells (17).
How do I take ginkgo biloba?
To obtain the benefits of ginkgo biloba for eye health, it is recommended to take 40 mg three times per day (a total daily dose of 120 mg).
The supplement form of Ginkgo biloba is also known as EGb-761 extract, and should always be a 50:1 concentrated extract.
Check it Out: The 10 Best ginkgo Biloba Supplements to Consider
Copper is an essential trace mineral that is used in several different processes in the body. The major function for copper is in catalyzing oxidation-reduction (REDOX) reactions that are important for the activity of several enzymes.
Copper is present in the retina where it functions in REDOX balance as a cofactor for an enzyme called copper, zinc-superoxide dismutase.
How does copper support eye health?
A randomized, placebo-controlled double-masked clinical trial found that 80 mg copper, alongside antioxidants and zinc, significantly reduced the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration after 6 years of supplementation compared with placebo (18).
Similarly, a review of nutrients and age-related macular degeneration concluded that mineral supplements, including copper, exert a protective role, particularly when taken with antioxidants (19).
How do I take copper?
To obtain the benefits of copper for eye health, it is recommended to take 80 mg daily ideally alongside a multivitamin and mineral containing antioxidants and zinc, as these seem to work synergistically.
The Bottom Line
Eye health is an often neglected topic, but it’s hugely important to consider as part of general health. This is particularly the case as you get older and are at an increased risk of developing eye conditions, such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
Alongside getting regular eye tests, stopping smoking, and moderating alcohol consumption, there are several supplements you can take which all provide benefits not only for your eyes but for your overall health.
Keep Reading: 13 Supplements That Help Fight High Blood Pressure
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