“Each day, your eyes are assaulted by the sun, electronic devices, and the natural process of aging, all of which cause oxidative stress—a process that acts like rust in the body,” says optometrist Jeffrey Anshel, OD, and author of Smart Medicine for Your Eyes. Manifestations can range from discomfort to degenerative conditions that impair sight. But the right nutrients can protect and nourish the eyes, helping you to see better, longer.
Although an all-around healthy diet is essential, the eyes favor specific nutrients: lutein and zeaxanthin. And omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are needed to maintain healthy eye fluids, which can affect vision as well as comfort. Along with a good-quality multivitamin, this combination can reduce the odds of problems.
How Key Nutrients Work
Lutein and zeaxanthin are naturally present in the eye, especially the retina, which lines the back of the eye and converts light signals into impulses that become images. They are most concentrated in the macula, a small, yellowish area in the center of the retina that enables us to see details in the center of our field of vision, such as facial features or words on a page. Zeaxanthin also acts like natural sunglasses, shielding the eye internally from harmful light rays.
Age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma are leading causes of vision loss, and these two nutrients can help prevent and slow down the progression of these diseases. They are also found in the lens of the eye and help to prevent the formation of cataracts.
Even though lutein and zeaxanthin are essential for normal vision, our bodies can’t make them. Dark-green leafy vegetables are a chief source, and other vegetables and fruits in general are others, but nutrient-depleted soils don’t guarantee that we can get enough. “Although they are often found together in foods, the standard American diet is woefully low in these nutrients,” says Anshel. “Even the healthiest of eaters can still benefit from supplementing.”
How to Use Eye Supplements
Anshel recommends a multivitamin, with the daily dose divided into two servings, with meals; 250 mg of vitamin C, four times daily; and omega-3 fats found in fish oil, especially DHA. The usual recommended amount of fish oil is 1 to 3 grams daily.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in some multis and in formulas designed to support healthy vision. These, says Anshel, are beneficial ranges for each one:
- Lutein: 6 to 40 mg daily
- Zeaxanthin: 4 to 8 mg daily
In food and in the human body, these nutrients are naturally present in a lutein:zeaxanthin ratio of 5:1, and this is the most beneficial combination in supplements. Some vision formulas contain a proprietary form of these, known as Lutemax 2020, which is a combination of the two nutrients in their natural ratio.
For healthy eye development of babies and infants, mothers need adequate lutein, zeaxanthin, and DHA, one of the key omega-3 fats in fish oil and algae. The fetus then gets these in the womb, and an infant gets them in breast milk.
Reducing Computer Eyestrain
Keep your monitor in front of a light—rather than dark—background, positioned so that you are looking down at it while sitting up straight. Set monitor brightness to the lowest level that is comfortably readable. Make it a habit to periodically look into the distance—for example, when you stop to think—and focus on something at least 20 feet away, preferably outside a window.
Herbal Eye Remedies: 3 Ways
Herbs can be taken as supplements or used topically in compresses or eyewashes. As a supplement, bilberry is a traditional herbal remedy for poor vision, especially at night. Tests have shown that it is a strong antioxidant that reduces the effects of glare and improves contrast sensitivity in healthy eyes, and may help to improve impaired vision. Bilberry, grape seed extract, ginkgo, eyebright, and other herbs may be found in vision supplement formulas.
For herbs in compresses or eyewashes, this is how Anshel recommends preparing them:
Bring 1 or 2 heaping tablespoons of an herb to a boil in 1 cup of water, and strain the liquid. Dip a cotton pad or gauze into it, drain off excess, and then put the pad on your eyelid, keeping your eye closed. The compress should be warm, but not uncomfortably hot. Keep it on the eyelid until it cools. The heat stimulates blood flow, which enhances healing and helps to flush out bacteria and toxins. However, for eyes that are itchy from allergies, a cold compress may be more soothing.
Make an herbal tea and then strain it through a piece of cheesecloth or filter paper, until it runs clear. There must be absolutely no particles in the liquid, as these could scratch or irritate the eye. Let the liquid cool to room temperature before use. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to two weeks.
How to apply an eyewash:
Lean your head back and, using a dropper, put two drops of liquid in the corner of one eye while the eye is closed. Or, gently pull your lower lid down and drop the liquid in the pocket. Your blink reflex will distribute the liquid. Using an eyecup is another alternative. With any of these methods, keep your eye closed for about 30 seconds.