As of 2010, an estimated 1.28 million US adults over age 40 were blind and another 2.9 million had very poor vision; about 10‒20% of adults 80 or older had poor vision (NEI 2014). Adults with poor vision are at a significantly higher risk for many social and health problems including depression, social withdrawal, accidents, and self-administered medication errors (Casten 2013; Rosenberg 2008; Rowe 2004; Campbell 2005; Field 2007).
Fortunately, nutrient interventions such as omega-3 fatty acids, carotenoids, and B-complex vitamins have been shown to support eye health during aging (Christen 2009; Weikel 2012; Ma 2013; Nolan 2013; Hammond 1997).
Types of Eye Problems
- Macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is characterized by loss of function in the central portion of the retina (called the macula) (AMDF 2014). People with macular degeneration experience a gradual loss of vision, especially in the central visual field. More information is available in the Macular Degeneration protocol.
- Cataracts. Cataracts are caused when protein fibers in the lens undergo harmful changes that cause them to become cloudy and impair vision. More information is available in the Cataracts protocol.
- Glaucoma. Glaucoma may be caused by a gradual increase in eye pressure which causes damage to the optic nerve (Chiang 2013). People with glaucoma experience reduced vision, especially in the outer (peripheral) field of view. More information and treatment strategies are outlined in the Glaucoma protocol.
- Diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy damages vision in persons with long-term type 1 or type 2 diabetes. It involves damage to tiny blood vessels, formation of advanced glycation end products, oxidative damage to cells, and inflammation (Bandello 2013). More information is available in the Retinopathy protocol.
- Inherited eye conditions. These genetic conditions include retinitis pigmentosa and others. Retinitis pigmentosa first causes night blindness, then progressive loss of the outer field of view during daytime, and may lead eventually to total blindness (Hamel 2006).
Lifestyle and Dietary Considerations
- Routine eye exams, since many eye problems may not have symptoms until the condition has reached an advanced state (Pelletier 2009)
- Regular exercise may be useful in preventing or slowing the progression of macular degeneration, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy (Munch 2013; Williams 2013; Janevic 2013).
- Avoid smoking as it has been associated with a significantly higher risk of macular degeneration (Coleman 2010; Velilla 2013) and cataracts (Lindblad 2005). Higher alcohol consumption is also linked to a higher risk of macular degeneration (Coleman 2010).
- Wearing UV-blocking sunglasses can significantly reduce the risk of macular degeneration or cataract formation (Delcourt 2001; Neale 2003; Sui 2012).
- Controlling blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol can significantly decrease the risk for diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and macular degeneration (Diabetes Control and Complications Trial Research Group 1993; Weikel 2013; Chiu, Milton 2007; UK Prospective Diabetes Study Group 1998; Keech 2007).
- B-complex vitamins: In one study, women aged ≥40 years at baseline were treated with either a daily supplement containing folic acid, vitamins B6 and B12, or placebo. After an average 7.3-year follow-up period, risk of developing macular degeneration was 33% lower in the supplement group (Christen 2009). Also, benfotiamine, a fat-soluble form of thiamine, has been shown to prevent diabetic retinopathy in animal research (Hammes 2003).
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Studies have revealed higher consumption of omega-3 fatty acids is associated with significantly lower rates of macular degeneration (Weikel 2012). A combination of vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful for individuals with retinitis pigmentosa; one study found rates of yearly vision decline were slower among subjects supplementing with vitamin A and consuming greater than 200 mg of omega-3’s than among those supplementing with vitamin A and consuming lower amounts of omega-3’s (Berson 2012).
- Carotenoids: Higher carotenoid consumption, especially lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin, has been linked to better eye health, including a lower risk of macular degeneration and cataracts (Ma 2013; Nolan 2013; Hammond 1997).
- Astaxanthin: Several Japanese studies reported that supplemental astaxanthin was associated with better visual acuity and significantly less visual fatigue (Kidd 2011).
- Carnosine eye drops: In a study on adults with cataracts treated with eye drops containing carnosine for 3‒6 months, vision improvement was reported in all subjects with primary senile cataract and 80% of subjects with mature senile cataract (Wang 2000).