Eating more healthily and taking nutritional supplements could improve overall eye health and treat conditions that can affect our vision as we grow older.

A diet high in fat and cholesterol, for example, can lead to a build-up of fatty deposits in the blood vessels in the eye. This can hamper blood flow and increase the risk of conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This condition tends to affect people aged over 65 and is the UK’s leading cause of blindness in older adults.

 

Important nutrients

 

Dr Hannah Bartlett, Reader in Optometry at the School of Life & Health Sciences at Aston University in Birmingham, says many people are not aware of the risks to their eye health from poor eating habits as they age, or do not understand how having a more nutritious diet can help.

People are not aware of how their eating habits can affect eye health

She cites the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS) supported by The National Eye Institute in the USA. This research reveals that daily doses of vitamins C and E, plus carotenoids and minerals zinc and copper can help to reduce the risk of progression of AMD. “There is evidence that taking some supplements with nutrients can slow down the progression of AMD, which we are all at risk from as we get older,” says Bartlett. “It is not clear if a better diet and supplements can prevent the onset of the condition, but as an optometrist I would recommend everyone follows government guidelines on healthy eating to promote general and ocular health.”

 

Dietary advice

 

The government advice is to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and have a diet that includes protein found in fish, eggs, dairy and pulses and a sensible level of fats and sugar for energy. She says that carotenoidss such as lutein and zeaxanthin, which are found in green leafy vegetables including spinach and so-called super foods such as kale, may be particularly beneficial to eye health. “Lutein is a naturally-occurring carotenoid that is highly concentrated in the macula of the eye,” says Bartlett. “It is absorbed at the back of the eye where it acts as an antioxidant and screens out damaging wavelengths of light.”

Green, leafy vegetables may be particularly beneficial to eye health

“We might not realise how our eyes change as we age, so regular eye checks are important, especially if someone notices a distortion in their vision when reading. A condition such as AMD can be difficult to spot because it often affects one eye at a time.”

 

Which products to choose

 

Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish can also help improve eye health and lower the risk of other conditions such as cataract and dry-eye syndrome.

When deciding which nutrients to buy to potentially improve eye health opticians recommend choosing products that use the AREDS formulation and contains lutein, zeaxanthin, , vitamins C and E, zinc and copper... “It is also worth younger people and anyone with a family history of AMD to look at the ingredients they cook with and include foods that might be beneficial to eye health,” says Dr Bartlett. “However, it is always important that people who are already on medication talk to their GP before taking additional supplements.”