It causes a gradual loss of central (but not peripheral) vision which is important for activities like reading and driving. The disease does not lead to complete blindness but visual loss can occur within months, or over many years, depending on the type and severity. As you age, it is important to protect the eyes by increasing your intake of nutrients that support eye health such as; a low GL diet, high antioxidants, B vitamins and omega 3.A number of clinical trials suggest nutrition may play a role in halting or delaying the progression of visual loss.
Here’s a snapshot of some of the research and new nutritional heroes:
• A recent, year-long, placebo-controlled clinical trial published in JAMA Opthamology, reveals a combination of specific antioxidants makes a substantial difference to a number of measures of eye health in those with macular degeneration. Patients were either given a combined supplement of lutein, zeaxanthin and omega 3 (DHA and EPA) or a placebo. Those on the supplements showed significant improvements in measures of eye health and the authors concluded “such supplementation may be beneficial for AMD patients”.
• Vitamin A (retinol) is the most important nutrient for the eye. It is a key part of the chemical process that turns photons of light into the electrical nerve impulses that travel to the brain. It also maintains the mucus lining of the eye; supports tear production; protects the eye; and prevents night blindness. The most readily absorbed form is retinol, found in meat and fish, although it can be synthesised from plant oil as retinyl palmitate. I recommend at least 15,000ius for eye protection. Most multivitamins provide 5,000IUs. It’s important to be aware that there is a toxicity issue with high doses of vitamin A during pregnancy, but other than that this dose is quite safe.
• Lutein and zeaxanthin are two carotenoids that are actually present in the macula of the eye and protect the retina and, perhaps, even prevent age-related diseases such as AMD and cataracts. Rich sources are found in green leafy vegetables, brightly coloured fruits and egg yolk. Researchers from the University of Georgia concluded that these carotenoids have a positive effect on the retina, reducing disability and discomfort from glare, enhancing contrast and increasing visual range . In addition, a study of over 35,000 women  found that those whose diets included the most lutein and zeathanthin lowered their risk of developing cataracts by 18 per cent. Whilst a review of studies found that increased intakes of the carotenoids were associated with a 26 per cent reduction in the risk of late-stage age-related macular degeneration (AMD) . You need about 2mg of lutein and 20mg to 30mg of zeaxanthin for an effect.
• Bilberry acts as a vasodilator, increasing blood flow to the vasculature of the eyes and increases tissue and capillary wall strength. In one study of 50 patients with cataracts, it stopped the progression of the cataracts in 97 percent of the cases. The recommended daily dose is 320 mg of a bilberry extract standardized to contain 25 percent anthocyanidins.
• CoQ10 and acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC) with omega 3 improved vision and slowed the progression of the disease in a placebo-controlled trial of over 100 AMD patients. Only one in 48 (2 per cent) taking the nutrients deteriorated a year on, compared to 9 in 53 on the placebo (17 per cent) . Aim for 100mg of CoQ and 200mg of ALC.
• Vitamin D is another important nutrient to supplement, especially if you live in northern Europe. High levels of vitamin D in the blood are associated with a decreased risk of developing early AMD before the age of 75. Women who consumed the most vitamin D had a 59 per cent decreased chance of developing early AMD compared with women who consumed the least . I recommend around 25mcg (1,000ius). A good multivitamin will give you 15mcg, so you need to top up another 10mcg.
• Finally, I recommend everyone supplement a high potency multivitamin, plus extra vitamin C and essential fats, especially omega 3. On top of this, find a formula that supports eye health providing these key nutrients.
Totally Nourish stock the full Patrick Holford supplement range, including a specially formulated product for eye health. Click here to visit Totally Nourish.
1. (JAMA Ophthalmol. Published online March 21, 2013. doi:10.1001/.jamainternmed.2013.2851.
2. Chung-Jung Chiu, et al., ‘Dietary carbohydrate and the progression of age-related macular degeneration: A prospective study from the Age-Related Eye Disease Study’, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007;86: 180–8
3. W.G. Christen, et al., ‘Dietary carotenoids, vitamins C and E, and risk of cataract in women: A prospective study’, Archive Ophthalmology, 2008;126(1):102–9
4. L. Ma et al., ‘Lutein and zeaxanthin intake and the risk of age-related macular degeneration: a systematic review and meta-analysis’ British Journal of Nutrition doi:10.1017/S0007114511004260, published online
5. J. Feher, et al., ‘Improvement of visual functions and fundus alterations in early age-related macular degeneration treated with a combination of acetyl-L-carnitine, n-3 fatty acids, and coenzyme Q10’, Ophthalmologica, 2005;219(3):154–66
6. A. E. Millen, et al., ‘Vitamin D status and early age-related macular degeneration in postmenopausal women’, Archives of Ophthalmology, 2011;129(4):481–9