Focus on Vision Protection
By Juniper Devecis MS, RD, CCN
The eye is a complex organ whose very mechanism involves being exposed to large amounts of sunlight and other environmental antagonists. Antioxidants and carotenoids help to filter light and promote antioxidant defenses. Essential fatty acids are also protective, and offer support for healthy inflammatory balance and moisture retention in the eye.
The importance of nutrients for eye health has been particularly evident since the publication of a long-term, multi-center study involving more than 5,000 individuals ages 55-80. Results revealed that high amounts of vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, and copper support the health of the macula. Similar results have been found with higher serum vitamin D levels and omega-3 essential fatty acids.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are the two major carotenoid pigments in the human macula and retina. These carotenoids act in the eye as macular pigments, helping to support the integrity and density of the macula lutea. Research indicates that they also provide antioxidant defense to protect the ocular tissue and promote gap junction communications, resulting in improved retinal signal efficiency. Multiple clinical studies suggest a direct relationship between lutein supplementation and macula lutein concentration. Higher intakes of these carotenoids promote macular and optic lens health, and offer visual acuity support. In a 12-month, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial involving 90 subjects, 10 mg of lutein was found to promote visual function both alone and when combined with a multivitamin. Studies suggest that this support is also due in part to the carotenoid's ability to filter highenergy blue wavelengths of light, thus minimizing retinal glare.
Inflammatory balance is a critical consideration in achieving optimal visual function and overall eye health. Like other carotenoid pigments, astaxanthin accumulates in the retina, where it plays protective and functional roles. In addition to maintaining healthy cytokine activity in the eye, astaxanthin supports visual acuity and may help modulate eye fatigue. Significant support for visual acuity has been documented in healthy volunteers after only one month of astaxanthin supplementation. Astaxanthin is naturally present in many marine organisms, including microalgae and the lipid fraction of krill. BioAstin® astaxanthin is a patented formulation from Haematococcus pluvialis microalgae that has been validated by multiple double-blind, placebo-controlled human clinical studies. Krill-Plex is an extensively researched Antarctic krill oil, delivering omega-3 phospholipids and 1.5 mg of naturally-occurring astaxanthin.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids also offer support for eye hydration and comfort. In a 10-year, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study involving nearly 40,000 women, higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids were associated with retention of eye moisture. Research suggests that these essential fatty acids, including EPA, DHA, and GLA, support the composition of the lipid, aqueous, and mucin layers that comprise the tear film, the coating of fluid that covers the eye. They also support healthy prostaglandin and cytokine production to promote inflammatory balance and eye comfort.
The vast amount of clinical data collected over the past decade has shed light on the critical importance of these specific nutrients for vision and eye health. Estimates suggest eight million people over the age of 55 are concerned with eye health and this number is only expected to increase. Antioxidants, carotenoids, minerals, and essential fatty acids offer targeted support for these individuals.
1. Arch Ophthalmol. 2001 Oct;119(10):1417-36.
2. Arch Ophthalmol. 2007 May;125(5):661-9.
3. Arch Ophthalmol. 2008 Sep;126(9):1274-9.
4. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Nov;84(5):1107-22.
5. Ophthalmic Physiol Opt. 2006 Mar;26(2):137-47.
6. Optometry. 2004 Apr;75(4):216-30.
7. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Oct;82(4):887-93.
8. Ocul Surf. 2010 Jan;8(1):18-28.