Food Sources for Nutrients
The following describes important vision nutrients - food for the eyes - the foods they are found in, (where possible, ordered by quantity in the food source), and conditions for which their use is relevant, and their sources in supplements.
Cysteine, consumed as N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC, helps your retina stay healthy by increasing the production of the potent antioxidant gluatathione. The body can synthesize glutathoine from amino acids, but cysteine is the one component to glutathoine synthization that is somewhat uncommon in foods.
Taurine – in the healthy eye, high levels of this nutrient are found in the retina. Taurine is essential for maintaining healthy vision and the regenerating worn-out visual system tissue.
Bioflavonoids are the natural occurring yellow, red and blue pigments found in plants that protect your eyes from damage from sunlight. They are potent antioxidants that combat damage from free radicals and that appear to assist blood circulation to and within the retina that may enhance blood flow to the retina. They act in combination with vitamins to strengthen and maintain vision.
Quercitin, Rutin Quercitin protects the eye from damage by solar radiation. In addition, it may reduce inflammation and is being investigated for use in helping reduce eye symptoms from allergens. It functions in a synergistic manner with vitamin E and with taurine. Research has indicated that the similar Rutin reduces leakage from the tiny retina blood vessels. It also is an excellent free radical fighter.
Carotenoids are plant pigments that absorb blue light and that exist naturally in plants using photosynthesis, including, not only the plants that we see daily, but algae, some types of fungus and some bacteria. They are valuable antioxidants and help protect the eye from many eye diseases. Research has demonstrated that people who eat lots of carotenoids are healthier and have fewer chronic illnesses in general. Interestingly, oils in fruits and vegetables are important for absorption of carotenoids. Research has found that avocado (fruit and oil) helped in this absorption.2
Bilberry – is the European cousin of the Northern American blueberry. Traditionally it is known as the vision herb for its powerful beneficial effect on all types of vision problems.
Lutein – is a yellow pigment (from latin meaning, "yellow") which is found in the eye's macula. It is created only by plants and is found in animal foods only because they eat plants. Lutein is an antioxidant that helps protect the eyes from the free radical damage that UV (blue) light causes. Lutein is concentrated in the peripheral edges of the retina. It works most effectively as a supplement in combination with zeaxanthin.3
Astaxanthin is a fat-soluable carotenoid, which, in its value as an antioxidant, is ten times more powerful than beta-carotene, and up to 500 times stonger than vitamin E. It must be taken in through diet since it is not made by the body.
Zeaxanthin – is also found in high amounts in the macula and it also protects against the free radical damage from UV light that damages the macula and rods and cones of the eye. Zeaxanthin is found most concentrated in the macula of center of the macula. It works more effectively as a supplement in combination with lutein.3
Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s)
Omega 3 Fatty Acids - fats are essential for nerve conduction in the retina and to reduce cholesterol. They operate in the body as fuel for metabolism and muscle action.
Omega-6 Fatty Acids – protect eye and other cells from deterioration and to reduce inflammation throughout the body. An ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in the diet is 4:1, and slightly higher therapeutically. Higher levels may actually have a negative effect.
Chromium – in trace amounts, helps regulate blood sugar levels, break-down of fats, and blood circulation. It may help prevent nearsightedness, which is a a risk factor for vitreous degeneration, glaucoma and floaters.
Magnesium – is one of the most abundant elements in the body. It is a mineral reduces and prevents muscle spams. It relaxes the smooth mucles that regulate the circulation of aqueous humor within the eye.
Selenium is an essential trace element nutrient that enhances the functioning of the antioxidant glutathione, supporting healthy vision. It is also important in the functioning of the thyroid gland and in cells using thyroid hormones (it may inhibit Hashimoto's disease.5
Zinc is not itself an antioxidant, but has some antioxidant characteristics. It helps heal injuries, supports the immune system, and supports the functioning of many enzymes. The AREDS study demonstrated that it is helpful for macular degeneration.
Alpha Lipoic Acid supports the energy-production of the mitochondria in every cell. It helps fight multiple forms of free radicals and is considered an essential nutritional element for healthy eyes. It acts like an antioxidant. It has been the subject of many studies and benefits are indicated for cardiovascular disease6, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer's, migraines, inflammation and many other conditions. Alpha-R is the most readily absorbable form.
Garlic this onion cousin has (in vitro) anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral qualities. Research has found that it is helpful for many conditions in addition to vision. It thins the blood and reduces blood clots (avoiding the side effects of aspirin) in the tiny capillaries of the retina and elsewhere in the body, lowers cholesterol. It contains methione, cysteine, and glutathione.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a vitamin-like compound that functions like an antioxidant. It exists primarily in cell mitochondria that produce energy. It helps cells metabolize consumed food, enhances blood circulation and improves heart functioning.
Vitamin A – We generally suggest that if you need vitamin A supplementation that you take it as beta-carotene, readily convertable to A if there is a little dietary fat.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) Easily absorbable, B2 is essential for many cellular processes and energy production in the body. It supports light reception in the retina, and is required for synthesis of glutathione. Deficiencies can cause tired or sore eyes, light sensitivity, and a number of eye diseases.
Folic Acid - (folacin, folate) converts to vitamin B9 in the liver and is critical for many functions such as repairing DNA, and supporting healthy red blood cells. It supports cell growth; the body's need increases for pregnant women whose body's must support growth of the fetus. Folic acid is water soluable, meaning that it becomes depleted rapidly and must be replenished daily. It also helps keep homocysteine levels low7 protecting against heart disease and high cholesterol.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) is another water soluable vitamin that leaves the body rapidly. It helps enzymes, especially those that are part of metabolism, including synthesis of amino acids (helps transform homocysteine into ">cysteine), neurotransmitters, and red blood cells. Most people with macular degeneration are deficient in B6, and there is a high risk of deficiency in people with rheumatoid arthritis and type I diabetes.
Vitamin B12. The body builds up large reserves of vitamin B12 over time, and so people who lack B12 in their diets may not experience the serious symptoms of B12 deficiency for many years. It is critical to proper functioning of the brain and nerve cells and other serious and sometimes irreversible damage. People on vegan diets must supplement with V12. Supplementation appears to reduce deterioration of eyesight in glaucoma patients, by supporting myelin sheath stability (the fatty layer surrounding the nerve cells in the eye).
Vitamin C, (ascorbate, ascorbic acid) acts as an antioxidant and is an essential nutrient for enzyme processes and healing bleeding injuries and in the fine capillaries. It helps fight free radicals, and acts as a ultraviolet light filter within the eye. The second highest concentration of Vitamin C in the body is found in the eye, topping only the adrenal glands. High levels reduce cardiovascular disease and support healthy vision
Vitamin E has antioxidant functions and its use in preventative medicine is quite controversial. It scavenges free radicals, helps regulate enzyme activity, plays a role in gene expression, and helps in neurological functions. It appears to help lower eye pressure in glaucoma.
1. A. E. Mitchell, and associates (2007). "Ten-Year Comparison of the Influence of Organic and Conventional Crop Management Practices on the Content of Flavonoids in Tomatoes". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 55 (15): 6154–9.
2. Unlu N, et al. (1 March 2005). "Carotenoid Absorption from Salad and Salsa by Humans Is Enhanced by the Addition of Avocado or Avocado Oil". Human Nutrition and Metabolism 135 (3): 431–6.
3. SanGiovanni JP, Chew EY, Clemons TE, et al. (September 2007). "The relationship of dietary carotenoid and vitamin A, E, and C intake with age-related macular degeneration in a case-control study: AREDS Report No. 22". Arch. Ophthalmol. 125 (9): 1225–32.
4. Examples of fish high on the food chain are sword fish, king mackeral, tilefish. Even salmon is not safe for pregnant women or more than once a week. The bears of Alaska have high mercury levels due to the importance of salmon in their diet. Examples of fish low on the food chain are herring, sardines and anchovies.
5. Mazokopakis, EE; Papadakis, JA; Papadomanolaki, MG; Batistakis, AG; Giannakopoulos, TG; Protopapadakis, EE; Ganotakis, ES (2007). "Effects of 12 months treatment with L-selenomethionine on serum anti-TPO Levels in Patients with Hashimoto's thyroiditis". Thyroid : official journal of the American Thyroid Association 17 (7): 609–612
6. (a) ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00765310 Lipoic Acid and Prevention of Heart Disease;
7. Weinstein, SJ et al. (2003). "Null Association Between Prostate Cancer and Serum Folate, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, and Homocysteine" (PDF). Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention 12 (11): 1271–1272