The use of eye vitamins and supplements to improve or protect vision is controversial. Not all scientists and eye doctors agree on their merit. After considerable research to honor both sides of the debate I offer my opinion concerning the current consensus on the topic.
The best studies were sponsored by the National Eye Institute in 2001 and repeated with modifications in 2006. The first study was called the Age Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) and the second AREDS2. They showed a certain mix of vitamins were about 28 percent effective in reducing risk of age related macular degeneration (ARMD). The controlled study used vitamins C, E, zinc, copper, and carotenoids lutein, and zeaxanthin. ARMD is the leading cause of vision loss over for people over the age 50 in the United States. Other natural sources of carotenoids are kale, spinach, and other leafy green vegetables.
Vitamin A, found in carrots, has a long history of advocates to help improve vision. Egyptians, more than 2,000 years ago, ate liver, which was high in vitamin A, to combat vision problems. British Air Force soldiers were given large doses of carrots to help night vision in WW2, so they were told. Vitamin A and related biochemicals are abundant in the critical part of the retina called the macula. Caution should be used in taking too much vitamin A, because it is fat soluble and can make one’s skin turn orange. This happened to a patient of mine, who thought it would be better to take more than the recommended dose to help vision. Very few Americans suffer from Vitamin A deficiency, which can cause dry eye and retina problems. More is not necessarily better for this vitamin.
Bilberry is an herb that some claim to help vision. It can be converted in the body to rhodopsin, which is theoretically helpful for function of the rods (retinal photoreceptor) and night vision. It is also loaded with anthocyanin to protect blood vessel walls from excessive sugar damage. I could not find any scientific studies to prove this.
Vitamin C may help slow down or prevent cataracts. It has synergistic roles in preventing macular degeneration. You are unlikely to get poisoned by too much water-soluble vitamin C. More recent studies show more than 90 milligrams per day has little additional benefit.
Omega 3 fatty acids are very powerful in treating or preventing dry eyes. They may also have a role in retinal and lenticular (cataracts) health. There are many sources of Omega 3 and other fatty acids. Fish oil is an economical source of Omega 3 fatty acids. My clinical experience with Omega 3 is very positive as a aid to treating dry eye conditions in the high country.
Ginko biloba is an herb that helps free radical damage in the brain and the retina. It may improve blood flow to the optic nerve and indirectly help vision and vision perception. Research is not great for this. It is unproven and unlikely, in my opinion, that a vitamin or herb will correct the focusing problem most often causing blurred vision and the need for spectacles.
Though herbs and vitamins may not help correct focusing problems, there is good scientific evidence that vitamins and supplements can have a large role in prevention and progression control of macular degeneration, cataracts, and dry eye.
Dr. Steve Belanger is the optometrist owner of Peak Vision in Dillon. He is a 1982 graduate of the Michigan College of Optometry with undergraduate work at Central Michigan University and Michigan State University. Dr. Belanger relocated from Toledo, Ohio to Dillon in 2015 and resides in Keystone full time. His hobbies are skiing, golfing, cycling, and guitar. Contact Dr. Belanger at (970) 468-6591