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5 Nutrients That Benefit Eye Health

We all know that a healthy balanced diet and lifestyle is essential to keep our whole bodies in good health and functioning at its best. There are so many different vitamins, minerals and other naturally occurring substances required that it can be hard to understand. We take a look at five of the nutrients considered important for optimal eye health.  

Vitamin A

This vitamin forms the basis of a protein called rhodopsin (or visual purple), which is essential to the operation of the retina and your vision, particularly in low light, which needs constant renewal.

This vitamin is also important for keeping mucous membranes in your body healthy. Your eyes are covered with such membranes, known as the conjunctival membranes. These cover the whites of your eyes and the inner surfaces of your eyelids. Their purpose is to keep the areas moist and lubricated as well as form a barrier against foreign bodies such as dust and microorganisms.

Vitamin A is found naturally in two different forms named retinol and beta-carotene. Retinol is contained in animal products while beta-carotene comes from plant sources.

Foods containing high amounts of retinol include: Liver (all animals), butter, eggs and cheddar cheese. Food containing significant amounts of beta-carotene are: kale, spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables, carrots, sweet potato and yellow/orange coloured fruits like mango, papaya and apricots (especially dried).

Vitamin C

Most of us know that vitamin C is important for a healthy immune system but it is also essential to many other processes. Vitamin C is an antioxidant which means it helps to remove damaging oxidants or toxins from the body. It is known to have a supportive role in keeping blood vessels around the eyes healthy and may help to delay age related macular degeneration (AMD), which results in losing the clarity of central vision needed for everyday activities such as driving and reading.

Studies published in June 2016 by the American Academy of Opthalmology have suggested increased intake of vitamin C may prevent nuclear cataracts, which are those associated with aging.

Most fresh fruit and vegetables will contain vitamin C in varying amounts, with some of the highest sources being guavas, blackcurrants, red & green bell peppers, kale, broccoli as well as herbs such as parsley and thyme.

It is important to remember that vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, which means that it is quickly destroyed when exposed to air or washing. If food is left to go over-ripe or prepared but not immediately eaten, like in a pre-packed salad, then the level of useful vitamin C will be much lower than if the food was eaten immediately.

Vitamin E

Another antioxidant vitamin, it is believed to work by protecting eye cells from free radicals, the toxins that cause damage to our systems. Several studies have also shown that this vitamin may be important in helping to prevent age related macular degeneration and cataracts, although it is worth noting that many of the studies gave participants a combination of vitamins A (in the form of beta-carotene), C and E together with other nutrients.

Vitamin E is found in its highest concentrates in nuts, seeds, the oils produced from them and some grains, especially wheatgerm.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Along with Omega-6 fatty acids, these are a type of essential fatty acid; fats which our bodies need but cannot produce. Studies have found that Omega-3’s play an essential role in the development of infant eyesight, as well as finding that Omega-3 oils may help to prevent dry eye problems in adults and lower the risk of ‘wet’ macular degeneration, where the centre of the retina (the macula) deteriorates due to fluid or blood leaks from abnormal blood vessels.

The best known foods that are naturally high in Omega-3 fatty acids are oily fish which have oil within their tissues and belly cavity: tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, anchovies and herring.

Lutein & Zeaxanthin

These lesser known nutrients are types of carotenoids. This means they are essentially yellow/orange/red pigments. They are found in many plants, but they are also found in high concentrations within the macula, or centre of the human eye and it is believed that they prevent a type of high energy light rays called blue light from reaching and damaging parts of the retina, thought to be a cause of age related macular degeneration.

Several studies have found that increasing intake of lutein and zeaxanthin may prevent or reduce the onset of AMD.

As these carotenoids are yellow to red pigments, they are found in similar foods to those which contain beta-carotene, the plant based source of vitamin A, such as dark green leafy vegetables, red, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables. It is also found in eggs, lutein is what makes the yolks yellow and orange.

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