Vision problems have transitioned from being an inconvenience to a public health crisis. The current neglect surrounding eye health stems primarily from the silent nature of most vision problems. Unlike many other diseases that cause immediate pain or discomfort, visual impairments may develop gradually, leading individuals to dismiss their significance until it becomes too late for effective treatment. In fact, according to a meta-analysis on the Prevalence of Visual Acuity Loss or Blindness in the US by JAMA Ophthalmology, over 250 million people live with visual acuity loss or blindness. The most common causes of this include eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma, as well as the systemic disease diabetes.
According to the meta-analysis, people in the US fear losing vision more than their hearing, speech, and even memory. As such, many are increasingly trying to pay attention to eye health. One way this is being done is through consuming eye-friendly diets. Given this, can people really eat their way to better vision, and if so, what is the science behind it?
How diet impacts vision
A balanced diet filled with nutrient-rich food is not only essential for maintaining a healthy weight but also for promoting good vision. What everybody should know about foods for eye health is that nutrient-rich dietary additions are necessary to support how complex the eyes and their functions are. Specifically, foods rich in certain vitamins, minerals, fats, and antioxidants are the best at enhancing eye health.
One of the key nutrients in maintaining good eye health is vitamin A. This essential vitamin is responsible for the production of rhodopsin, a pigment located in the retina that helps with low-light vision. A deficiency in vitamin A can lead to a condition called night blindness, where individuals find it challenging to see in dim lighting conditions. Another vitamin that contributes to maintaining healthy eyes is Vitamin C. This helps protect the eyes against damage caused by harmful free radicals. As a result, it lowers the risk of developing cataracts, another common eye disease that can result in vision loss.
Omega-3 fatty acids also have a significant impact on eye health. Studies have shown that consuming this can help promote proper drainage in the eye’s tear ducts, preventing dryness and irritation. Lutein and zeaxanthin are two other essential nutrients for healthy vision. These carotenoids act as antioxidants and are primarily found in the macula of the eye, which is responsible for central vision. They protect the eyes from harmful light and radiation.
All in all, while these essential nutrients can be found in supplements, getting them from foods is one of the most effective and accessible methods.
Best eye-friendly foods
Citrus fruits such as mandarins, grapefruits, and limes are rich in vitamin C, a nutrient that helps maintain the health of blood vessels in the eyes. The small capillaries found in the retina can be prone to damage caused by high oxidation levels, and consuming citrus fruits regularly can protect the eyes from said damage. These fruits are also high in water content, so consuming them can ensure that eyes stay properly lubricated and moisturized to prevent dryness, irritation, and discomfort.
Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and trout are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These essential fatty acids are not produced naturally in the body, so they must be obtained through diet. They are integral components of cell membranes throughout the body, including the retina of the eye. By maintaining the structure and function of ocular tissue, they help reduce the risk of several eye diseases mentioned above.
Leafy greens, including spinach, kale, and watercress, are packed with antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin, which are carotenoids linked to eye health. They act as natural filters, protecting eye tissues from blue-violet light and UV radiation, as well as minimizing oxidative stress. Certain greens, like the aforementioned ones, also have very high levels of nitrates, which play a role in improving blood and oxygen flow to the eyes, benefitting ocular tissues, and offering protection against degenerative conditions.
Loose-leaf tea, namely chamomile, hibiscus, and tieguanyin, among others, are known to contain high levels of antioxidants, specifically catechins and flavonoids. By going through minimal processing compared to their bagged counterparts, loose-leaf tea is able to preserve most of its natural oils, nutrients, and antioxidants. These are associated with several health benefits, including eye health, as they possess anti-inflammatory properties that reduce oxidative stress in the eyes.