How to choose eye and vision supplements
Eye supplements are nutritional products that contain vitamins and other nutrients that research has shown to be beneficial for maintaining eye health and good vision.
As their name suggests, eye supplements are designed to add to, not replace, nutrients you get from a healthy balanced diet. Taking dietary supplements cannot completely make up for nutritional shortcomings of a poor diet that can cause serious health problems, including vision loss.
What is a "healthy diet" for your eyes?
Generally, a healthful diet for your entire body (including your eyes):
Emphasises fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.
Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts.
Is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium) and added sugars.
But even in developed countries, many people don't eat enough fruits, vegetables and other nutrient-rich foods. Instead, they choose a high-calorie, low-nutrient diet that can be harmful to the body, including the eyes.
Taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement can help fill in the nutritional gaps in a less-than-optimal diet and may help protect you from degenerative diseases, including eye diseases such as macular degeneration and cataracts.
AREDS and AREDS2: Eye supplements and age-related eye disease
Two of the most influential studies of the benefits of eye supplements are the AREDS and AREDS2 studies sponsored by the U.S. National Eye Institute. (AREDS is an acronym for "Age-Related Eye Disease Study.")
Each of these multi-center clinical trials enrolled several thousand participants and had a follow-up period of at least five years.
AREDS. The original AREDS study investigated the effect of use of a daily multivitamin supplement on the development and progression of AMD and cataracts in a population of approximately 3,600 participants, ages 55 to 80.
Most of the study participants already had early or intermediate AMD at the time of enrolment, and the average follow-up period of the study was 6.5 years. The multivitamin supplement contained beta-carotene (15 mg), vitamin C (250 mg), vitamin E (400 IU), zinc (80 mg) and copper (2 mg).
Results of the original AREDS research showed that the antioxidant multivitamin used in the study reduced the risk of AMD progression to advanced stages among people at high risk of vision loss from macular degeneration by about 25%.
Also, in the same high-risk group that included participants with intermediate AMD or advanced AMD in one eye but not the other, the daily multivitamin reduced the risk of vision loss caused by advanced AMD by about 19%.
For study participants who had either no AMD or only early AMD, the multivitamin provided no apparent eye health benefits.
Also, the daily eye supplement used in the AREDS study had no significant effect on the development or progression of cataract among study participants.
AREDS2. AREDS2 was designed to investigate the effect of modifications of the original AREDS supplement formula on the development and progression of AMD and cataracts.
AREDS2 researchers also wanted to evaluate a modification of the original AREDS multivitamin formulation because some research has linked beta-carotene supplementation to increased risk of lung cancer in smokers and previous smokers. There also were some concerns about minor side effects such as stomach upset in some caused by the high amount of zinc in the original AREDS formula among some participants in that study.
Results of the AREDS2 study showed that participants who took an AREDS formulation that included lutein and zeaxanthin (but no beta-carotene) had an 18% lower risk of developing advanced AMD over the five years of the study, compared with participants who took the original AREDS formulation with beta-carotene.
Also, AREDS2 participants with low dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin at the start of the study were up to 25% less likely to develop advanced AMD when taking a daily multivitamin that included 10 mg lutein and 2 mg zeaxanthin, compared with participants with similar dietary intake who did not take a supplement containing lutein and zeaxanthin during the study.
None of the modified AREDS supplement formulations used in AREDS2 — including those containing 1,000 mg omega-3 fatty acids (350 mg DHA and 650 mg EPA) — prevented or reduced the risk of cataracts.
Vision supplements: Recommended ingredients
As research continues on the benefits of vision supplements in reducing the risk of eye problems (and perhaps in improving visual acuity in healthy eyes), it seems wise to supplement your diet with a daily eye supplement that contains many, if not all, of the following ingredients.
Most of these vitamins and nutrients may play a key role in reducing inflammation and oxidative changes associated with the development of degenerative diseases, including chronic and age-related eye problems:
Vitamin A and beta-carotene. Vitamin A (and its precursor, beta-carotene) is necessary for night vision, wound healing and proper functioning of the immune system. Though supplemental beta-carotene has been associated with greater risk of certain cancers among smokers and previous smokers in some studies, obtaining a healthy amount of beta-carotene from natural food sources does not appear to elevate this risk.
Vitamin B complex. A combination of B vitamins may help reduce chronic inflammation that can cause vascular problems in the retina. B vitamins also may play a role in reducing the risk of macular degeneration and in the treatment of uveitis, a common cause of blindness.
Vitamin C. Some studies have found vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant, is associated with reduced risk of cataracts.
Vitamin D. Recent literature suggests vitamin D deficiency is widespread, especially during winter months in cold climates. Research suggests vitamin D is associated with a lower risk of macular degeneration.
Vitamin E. Another component of AREDS and AREDS2 supplements, vitamin E has been associated with reduced risk of cataracts in other studies.
Lutein and zeaxanthin. These plant pigments may reduce the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts, according to some researchers.
Phytochemical antioxidants. Plant extracts, such as those from ginkgo biloba and bilberry, contain compounds which appear to provide protection from oxidative stress in the entire body, including the eyes.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids. These essential nutrients may reduce the risk of dry eyes and may have other eye health benefits as well.
Bioflavonoids. Found in many fruits and vegetables, bioflavonoids appear to help the body absorb vitamin C for higher antioxidant efficiency.
Tips for buying vision supplements
Generally, you will save money when choosing vision supplements if you purchase a multivitamin, rather than buying each vitamin and nutrient separately.
There are many brands of "eye vitamins" to choose from. When choosing eye supplements, make sure you read their labels carefully and follow these guidelines:
Check for an expiration date to make sure the supplement you are purchasing is fresh.
Make sure the seal on the bottle has not been broken.
Check the serving size. Do you need to take only one tablet, or do you need to take two or more to get the recommended daily amount of each ingredient listed?
Capsules often are absorbed easier than hard tablets and may cause less stomach upset.
The best eye supplements contain quality ingredients that have high bioavailability, meaning your body can absorb them easily. For example, the natural form of vitamin E (D-alpha-tocopherol) is roughly twice as active in the human body as the artificial form (DL-alpha-tocopherol).
Avoid eye supplements that contain dairy products, corn or wheat as fillers, especially if you have allergies or other intolerance problems. The most reputable companies typically will formulate their supplements without unnecessary fillers.
To make sure you are getting a reputable product, choose eye supplements that are recommended by your eye care professional. Nutritionists also are good sources of information and advice about supplements for your eyes and vision.
Precautions when taking eye supplements
While dietary supplements, including eye supplements, generally are safe and beneficial, you should follow these precautions:
If you are pregnant or nursing or are taking blood thinners (anti-coagulants), speak to your doctor before using any type of nutritional supplements.
Do not exceed the recommended dose on the bottle to reduce the risk of toxicity or drug reactions.
Page published in March 2022
Page updated in March 2022