There are foods and vitamins that can be eating and taken specifically for the benefit of your eye health. While you're at it, eat healthy for the benefit of all your body's organs and systems by consuming plenty of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables. Nonetheless, if you have a family history of eye problems, maybe you should think about some particular foods that contain some of the right antioxidants that may help delay or even prevent some eye conditions.
Studies increasingly show eating a diet rich in antioxidants can protect the eyes from oxidative damage and help bolster long-term eye health. Foods that are rich in carotenoids (fat-soluble antioxidants pigments) are quite helpful for the eyes, particularly if they’re delivering lutein and zeaxanthin; these xanthophylls have been shown to protect the retina from the harmful effects of UV light and reduce the risk for developing cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Among the top whole food choices for delivering nutrients to protect and promote healthy eyes:
Dark green leafy vegetables: kale, spinach, collard and mustard greens are rich sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as the vitamin C that has been shown to fight glaucoma.
Carrots and yams: These bright orange vegetables are rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A; the vitamin is critical in preventing night blindness and maintaining corneal health.
Orange fruits: from peaches and mangoes to oranges and cantaloupe, these fruits contain the carotenoids lutein and lycopene, as well as rich stores of vitamin C.
Flax: Both the seeds and oil are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may enhance healthy tear function and fight dry eye syndrome.
Beans, seeds, nuts and grains: garbanzo beans and kidney beans are rich in zinc; sunflower seeds, wheat germ and almonds contain selenium and vitamin E; and Brazil nuts and oatmeal deliver selenium. Zinc, selenium and vitamin E help the body fight free radical damage. ( reference )
Here are some further details on the vitamins and minerals that are pertinent to the function and health of the eye:
Vitamin A is one of the most important dietary antioxidants for eye health. It helps maintain night vision by forming rhodopsin, or retinal purple, the pigment essential to night vision. Here are additional minerals for eye health --
Selenium content in a lens with a cataract is about 15% of normal levels. The antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase is selenium-dependent, and thus is far lower in the cataractous lens. Selenium works synergistically with Vitamin E. Together they are more effective at fighting free radical damage than either alone would be.
Zinc concentrations in the eyes are higher than in any other part of the body, and they are especially high in the retina. Here zinc is essential for oxidation and metabolism. Zinc also makes it possible for the liver to release Vitamin A, which is used to make rhodopsin. Low zinc levels can prevent the photoreceptors from functioning.
Zinc is also essential to the activity of dozens of enzymes, including the antioxidant enzymes involved in protecting the lens from cataracts and the macula from macular degeneration. Zinc binds with copper, and is then excreted through the digestive system, so copper must be supplemented along with zinc.
Copper works with Vitamin C to fight oxidative stress, and it is necessary for proper enzyme functioning. Too little copper can cause serious problems, such as anemia, hypothermia, and mental deterioration. Too much copper can also cause serious illness, including hepatitis, cirrhosis, and renal dysfunction. Since copper binds with zinc, any zinc supplementation requires copper supplementation as well.
Manganese is also one of the important dietary antioxidants for eye health as it activates the antioxidant enzymes.
Taurine is the most abundant amino acid in the eyes. It helps move sodium and potassium and so helps prevent or reverse the effects of cataracts. Low levels of taurine are associated with degeneration of the retina.
Most people, including vegans, can make taurine from cysteine and Vitamin B 6, so supplementation for eye dietary antioxidants for eye health is probably not necessary. Levels up to 6 grams per day are used for heart health, and will benefit the eyes as well.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin
Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids found in very high concentrations in the retina, and also in the lens of the eye.
They are the xanthophyll pigments that give the macula its yellow color. These two are the most important dietary antioxidants for eye health in terms of absorbing visible light rays (particularly blue light) that cause macular degeneration damage. Their presence has also been found to help prevent cataract formation.
Lycopene is a red carotenoid dietary antioxidants for eye health that is helpful in slowing the effects of macular degeneration. Lycopene is found in red-fleshed fruits, including tomatoes, red grapefruit, guava and watermelon. Its absorption in the body improves when ingested with a good quality oil, such as olive oil.
Bilberry, Blueberries and Other Flavonoids
Flavonoids (also known as bioflavinoids) are the pigments that give fruits their colors. Anthocyanins are flavonoids that strengthen and tighten capillaries, ensuring continuing blood flow to all parts of the eye.
Tight capillaries can also help reduce wet macular degeneration, which is caused when abnormal blood vessels start to grow and leak. Flavonoids are essential for proper absorption and use of Vitamin C. They also help in maintaining collagen, which is the main component of the lens and is the connective tissue that supports the eye.
Thus, flavonoids are important in maintaining clear lenses and in keeping intraocular pressure low. Flavonoids are also dietary antioxidants for eye health, with properties that reduce incidence of cataracts and macular degeneration by stopping free-radical damage.
Bilberries are the European cousin of blueberries. Blueberries are full of nutrients that help to improve the function of cells in our bodies. (You can also find Juice Plus+ Berry Blend that has nutrients from 9 different grapes and berries!)
Ginkgo biloba improves blood flow to all body parts, and so is important in good eye health. It can slow retinal deterioration. It is also a dietary antioxidants for eye health, and can slow down the aging process caused by free radicals.
It prevents destruction of the retinal neurons and ganglion cells, which helps protect the optic nerve from the damage caused by glaucoma.
Quercetin, a flavonoid found in garlic and onions, as well as in red wine, may play a part in reducing the chance of contracting glaucoma. It is one of a group of chemicals that relaxes the filter on the eye’s drain, allowing more fluid to drain, which reduces pressure buildup.
Co-enzyme Q 10
Co-enzyme Q is a naturally occurring substance found in most foods. It helps in oxidative metabolism by interacting with specific enzymes to improve their biochemical functions. Co-enzyme Q improves the use of oxygen at the cellular level, so it can be helpful in the eyes, where vast amounts of oxygen are used.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids (EFAs), that is, they are necessary for proper functioning bodily function. They are carriers of Vitamins A, D, E and K, all of them fat-soluble vitamins. Omega-3 fatty acids, along with omega-6 fatty acids, are taken into the membranes of your cells.
These membranes are responsible for nutrient transport, so if you ensure a balance of these oils, the membranes are much more flexible and can carry more nutrients. Not enough omega-3 fatty acid in your diet (and/or too much omega-6 fatty acid) can lead to hardening of the arteries, which can raise blood pressure and affect your vision.
EFAs also help maintain the myelin sheath around nerves, and thus help protect the optic nerve from damage. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are two omega-3 fatty acids that are part of fish oils. They can be obtained by eating salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel or sardines.
Take at least 100 IU of Vitamin E to help assimilate the oils. Evening primrose oil, black currant oil, and borage oil all provide gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which is an anti-inflammatory fatty acid. ( source )
Comments: While these recommended foods are great sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is the best way to prevent against most every health condition. As a rule of thumb, darker colored fruits or vegetables are going to be more nutrient-rich. Those are the best foods for getting vitamins, minerals, and the hundreds of phytonutrients that are the antioxidants that will support good health. Start eating better today.