Antioxidants, Eye Disease and Oxidative Stress

antioxidant foodsThe links between antioxidants and vision health are strong. Antioxidants are the antidote to oxidization. Normal metabolism creates free radicals. These are atoms that lack an electron. Free radicals roam about the body, scavenging electrons and stealing electrons from healthy cells.  This results in permanent damage to these afflicted cells which ultimately can result in disease. Significant research has shown that antioxidants protect against this cellular damage and are essential for maintaining health. The eye is especially vulnerable to free radical damage. Therefore, providing the body with sufficient antioxidants helps prevent eye disease and maintain healthy vision.

free radical explanationOxidative Stress

Doctors and eye care professionals often overlook the power of antioxidants, despite the many peer-reviewed research studies confirming the essential need of antioxidants for eye and overall health. Oxidative stress is an imbalance of free radicals versus antioxidants in the body. You can take simple steps to increase the amounts of antioxidants available in your system.

Antioxidant Building Blocks

Your body can manufacture certain antioxidants if given the right building blocks. Glutathione, Alpha Lipoic Acid, CoQ10 and vitamin D can be made in the body. Other antioxidants must be ingested, including resveratrol, carotenoids, Astaxanthin, Lutein, Zeaxanthin, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E for example.

Glutathione and Vision

Why is Glutathione called a super-antioxidant? This substance can neutralize the full range of free radicals. Few other antioxidants can do this. Low levels of glutathione are linked to cataracts and macular degeneration, and other age-related diseases. Our body manufactures glutathione; however, it is limited by the rarity of cysteine in our diets.

Cysteine is a required amino acid in glutathione production. The best dietary sources of cysteine are from cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, bok choy, etc. Supplements may be needed. Pills and capsules are poorly absorbed. A mouth spray such as ACG Glutathione Extra Strength Spray is more easily absorbed. Other co-factors that help the liver produce more glutathione include amino acids glycine and glutamine, along with alpha lipoic acid, selenium, and vitamin C.

  • Glaucoma patients had markedly lower levels of glutathione in their blood than healthy controls.1
  • Glaucoma patients had significantly lower levels of glutathione in their blood plasma. This implied a low-quality antioxidant defense system. 2
  • Oxidative stress is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. Blood analysis implicated oxidative stress in a study of glaucoma patients and cataract patients who all required surgery.3

Alpha Lipoic Acid – ALA

Lipoic acid is not considered an essential nutrient, but it is a powerful antioxidant. It converts glucose into energy. ALA appears to have a direct effect on ocular tissue metabolism.4 Food contains it, but only in very small amounts and not readily usable.

  • Open-angle glaucoma patients took 150 mg of ALA/day. Approximately half had improved color visual fields and visual sensitivity.5
  • ALA was found to block cataract formation in laboratory animal tests. It appeared to activate the anti-oxidative process and inhibit epithelial cell death.6
  • Additional studies found that ALA reduced or blocked cataract formation.7 8
  • Alpha lipoic acid reduced cataracts in diabetics and could protect against oxidative damage in brain and nerve cell disorders.9


Coenzyme Q10 supports all cellular activity and heart health. Healthy individuals naturally produce sufficient CoQ10. However, deficiency can be caused by a genetic flaw, or side effects from statin drugs, or other reasons. Some doctors routinely prescribe CoQ10 for statin drug users. If tests reveal a deficiency, supplementation is needed. Natural Eye Care has CoQ10 & L-Carnitine 60 softgels – the L-Carnitine supports the CoQ10.

  • A study showed that CoQ10 reduced corneal damages after UVB exposure by preserving mitochondrial function.10

Vitamin D and Eye Disease Risk

Your body can manufacture vitamin D from sufficient sun exposure. However, people in northern climates or who spend almost all their time indoors may not get enough. Milk is fortified with Vitamin D to help with calcium absorption, but this may not be enough. Vitamin D deficiency is common, particularly in seniors. A simple blood test determines if supplementation is needed. We recommend Vitamin D3 which is the most absorbable form of D.

  • Taking vitamin D was associated with lowered risk of macular degeneration.11
  • Women who consumed the most Vitamin D in their diets had a 59% lower chance of developing Macular Degeneration.12
  • An animal study showed that vitamin D3 supplementation significantly reduced inflammation and resulted in less amyloid beta. Their eyes were also better at cleaning out waste products (retinal macrophage). They showed significant vision improvements.13
  • Several studies associated low Vitamin D levels with dry eye.14 15


One delicious antioxidant is resveratrol. This nutrient is found in blueberries, raspberries, mulberries, lingonberry, Senna, and the skin of grapes. Think dark grape juice, and bowls of berries. Resveratrol has neuroprotective properties. For supplementation, try Resveratrol Ultra High Potency.

  • Alzheimer’s disease patients ingested 500 mg of resveratrol per day, gradually increasing to 1000 mg twice per day. Biomarkers for Alzheimer’s were less in these patients versus controls.16
  • Cerebral blood flow was increased in a short-term study of resveratrol.17


Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are beautiful to behold — they are also crucial to eye health. Carotenoids are a class of antioxidants that includes beta-carotene, astaxanthin, zeaxanthin, lycopene and lutein. The eyes require relatively large amounts of carotenoids for health vision maintenance. The macula gets its yellow color from zeaxanthin and lutein, which protects it from damage to due exposure to Ultra Violet and blue light from sunlight.

A diet rich in a wide variety of colored produce nourishes the eyes and helps prevent eye disease. However, diseases such as macular degeneration are particularly prevalent in seniors, particularly due to poorer ability to digest and absorb nutrients from food and poorer circulation. Other factors include effects of medications, health issues and often a more sedentary lifestyle. Careful attention to diet plus targeted supplementation and regular exercise can help ward off eye disease, especially as one ages. If eye disease sets in, Natural Eye Care offers packages based on the disease that provides targeted supplementation, including specific carotenoids.

  • In a study on animals, astaxanthin reversed injury to the retina. It also protected photoreceptors from degeneration.18
  • Animals fed astaxanthin had less damage from UV light.19
  • A large study of 100,000 Americans found higher intake of bioavailable lutein/zeaxanthin associated with a long-term reduced risk of advanced Age-Related Macular Degeneration.20

Vitamin C

One of the biggest concentrations of vitamin C is in the eye. Vitamin C enhances lutein absorption, which is important for preventing macular degeneration. It reduces inflammation; swelling and inflammation which are prevalent in uveitis patients. Vitamin C somewhat lowers intraocular pressure (glaucoma). Vitamin C is a precursor in glutathione production and helps prevent oxidation. It reduces oxidative stress that contributes to cataract formation. Vitamin C  also supports connective tissue health (vitreous detachment). While most other mammals can manufacture this nutrient, humans cannot. A diet rich in various fruits and vegetables will have plenty of Vitamin C. Otherwise, supplementation is recommended.

Vitamin E

A major fat-soluble vitamin, Vitamin E neutralizes free radicals. It also helps eliminate toxins, treats hardening of the arteries and enhances brain functioning.

  • Lutein, zeaxanthin, and vitamin E together reduced the risk of women developing cataracts in a study of more than 35,000 women. 21

Sensible Eating and Supplementation

The Standard American Diet (SAD) does not provide sufficient amounts of antioxidants. The Mediterranean Diet is an example of an excellent diet that contains more fruits and vegetables, and better fats (primarily high-quality olive oil).

Sensible supplementation means looking first at the diet. Is there a way to get sufficient amounts of antioxidants from food? See our article on food sources of antioxidants. Keep a food log and compare nutrient intake to recommendations. Supplement to achieve optimal nutrient levels. If you are already suffering from an eye condition, you may need more of the related nutrient. Purchase from a local store, or order supplements online. Natural Eye Care offers free phone consultations by phone and email. We can help you choose any needed supplements based on your age, gender, and any eye conditions you may have been diagnosed with by your eye doctor.

Other Tips – Smoking & Rest

Smoking tobacco causes oxidization. Antioxidants help scavenge free radicals from normal metabolic processes. Smoking adds to this load. Smokers need additional antioxidants, especially Vitamin C. Ideally, stop smoking. See our Smoker’s Life infographic.

Get sufficient amounts of deep sleep every night. Health problems and vision problems are worse in people who do not get sufficient sleep. Sleep-deprived subjects have lower glutathione levels.22 Track the number hours of quality rest you get each night (a fitness tracker on your wrist can help). For most adults, this is between 7 and 9 hours (5 – 9 hours may be appropriate for seniors).23

Summary: Antioxidants and Vision

The eyes have one of the highest concentrations of nutrients in the body. Certain antioxidants are building blocks for parts of the eye’s anatomy. Research has shown that certain antioxidants are especially good at addressing free radicals in the eyes. Eat a nutritious diet and supplement to provide more antioxidants. Oxidative stress is implicated in many eye diseases. Finding a balance between free radicals and antioxidants reduces oxidative stress. Low oxidative stress helps prevent eye disease.

  1. Researchers: D. Gherghel, S. Mroczkowska, et al, Published: Reduction in Blood Glutathione Levels Occurs Similarly in Patients With Primary-Open Angle or Normal Tension Glaucoma, Glaucoma, May, 2013.
  2. Researchers: D. Gherghel, H.R. Griffiths, et al, Published: Systemic Reduction in Glutathione Levels Occurs in Patients with Primary Open-Angle Glaucoma, Glaucoma, March, 2005.
  3. Researchers: W. Rokicki, et al, Published: Oxidative stress in the red blood cells of patients with primary open-angle glaucoma, Clinical Hemmorheology and Microcirculation, January, 2016.
  4. “Lipoic acid as a means of metabolic therapy of open-angle glaucoma.” Filina AA, Davydova NG, Endrikhovskiĭ SN, Shamshinova AM. Vestn Oftalmol. 1995 Oct-Dec;111(4):6-8.
  5. ibid
  6. Researchers: Y. Li, Y.Z. Liu, J.M. Shi, S. B. Jia. Published: Alpha lipoic acid protects lens from H(2)O(2)-induced cataract by inhibiting apoptosis of lens epithelial cells and inducing activation of anti-oxidative enzymes, Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine, July, 2013.
  7. Researchers: Y. Chen, et al. Published: alpha-Lipoic acid alters post-translational modifications and protects the chaperone activity of lens alpha-crystallin in naphthalene-induced cataract, Current Eye Research, July, 2010.
  8. Researchers: Packer, et al. Published: Alpha-lipoic acid prevents buthionine sulfoximine-induced cataract formation in newborn rats, Free Radical Biological Medicine, August 1995.
  9. Researchers: Packer, L., Published: Free Radical Biological Medicine 1997
  10. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2014 Oct 9;55(11):7266-71. doi: 10.1167/iovs.14-15306. CoQ10-containing eye drops prevent UVB-induced cornea cell damage and increase cornea wound healing by preserving mitochondrial function. Mencucci R. et. al.
  11. Researchers: Parekh N, Chappell RJ, Millen AE, Albert DM, Mares JA. Published: Association Between Vitamin D and Age-Related Macular Degeneration in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988 Through 1994. Arch Ophthalmol. May 2007;125: 661-669.
  12. Researchers, Amy E. Millen, PhD, et al. Published: Vitamin D and Macular Degeneration, Archives of Ophthalmology, 2011
  13. Researchers: V. Lee, E. Rekhi, et al. Published: Vitamin D rejuvenates aging eyes by reducing inflammation, clearing amyloid beta and improving visual function, Neurobiology of Aging, October, 2012.
  14. Researchers: P. Yildirim, et al. Published: Dry eye in vitamin D deficiency: more than an incidental association. International Journal of Rheumatic Disease, 2015.
  15. Researchers: S.Y. Yoon, et al. Published: Low Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Levels Are Associated with Dry Eye Syndrome, PLoS One, January, 2016
  16. Researchers: R. Scott Turner, MD et al. Published: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of Resveratrol for Alzheimer disease, Neurology, September, 2015.
  17. Kennedy, D. O.; Wightman, E. L.; Reay, J. L.; Lietz, G; Okello, E. J.; Wilde, A; Haskell, C. F. (2010). “Effects of resveratrol on cerebral blood flow variables and cognitive performance in humans: A double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover investigation”. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 91 (6): 1590–7. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.28641. PMID 20357044.
  18. Tso and Lam 1996
  19. E. Camara, et al, Astaxanthin, canthaxanthin and beta-carotene differently affect UVA-induced oxidative damage and expression of oxidative stress-responsive enzymes Experimental Dermatology, March, 2009.
  20. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2015 Dec;133(12):1415-24. doi: 10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2015.3590. Intakes of Lutein, Zeaxanthin, and Other Carotenoids and Age-Related Macular Degeneration During 2 Decades of Prospective Follow-up. Wu J1, Cho E2, Willett WC3, Sastry SM4, Schaumberg DA5.
  21. Archives of Ophthalmology (Arch. Ophthalmol. 2008;126:102-9) gathered from the Women’s Health Study.
  22. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2005 Feb;288(2):R374-83. Epub 2004 Oct 7. Antioxidant defense responses to sleep loss and sleep recovery. Everson CA1, Laatsch CD, Hogg N.