Vitamins & Eye Health

There are a myriad of vitamins on the market that make vague claims regarding eye health.  Most of these claims are extrapolated from a handful of studies that have been done on the subject.

Antioxidants neutralize harmful free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules or compounds that can damage your own cells, cell membranes and even DNA. Antioxidants nutrients such as OPCs, vitamins, and minerals are capable of counteracting the damage caused by excessive free radicals. Specifically, antioxidants can stabilize free radicals before it has a chance in causing cell damage (known as oxidative stress) or prevent other molecules from generating into unstable free radicals.

The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) was a 10-year multifaceted study that took place in the 1990’s.  AREDS report No. 8 focused on vitamin supplementation in patients with dry-type macular degeneration and found that patients in the “high-risk” group had a significantly lower risk of vision loss if they took a combination of antioxidant vitamins (Beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc).  This study looked at a very narrow group of patients; because of this study, we generally recommend all patients with dry-type macular degeneration take antioxidant supplements.

There is anecdotal evidence to support the use of Omega-3 fish oil supplements in the treatment of dry eyes.  Several studies in Europe have looked at antioxidants in the prevention of cataracts; these studies have been inconclusive.  Nonetheless, a number of herbal “cataract” drops are available over-the-counter.

Vitamin supplements and herbal medicines can have adverse effects.  Beta-carotene has been found to increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers.  High-dose vitamin E was at one point thought to be protective against heart disease; the opposite was found to be true.  Vitamin K can interfere with clotting in patients taking the blood thinner coumadin.  The active ingredient in Red Yeast Rice used to lower cholesterol levels has the same potential to cause liver damage as its “statin” counterpart.  Therefore, you should always consult your doctor before taking any vitamin or herbal supplement.

All vitamin supplements are not the same.  Vitamins and herbal medicines are classified as foods rather than drugs by the FDA and do not receive the same scrutiny that pharmaceuticals receive.  Therefore, it is critical to choose a reputable manufacturer to insure quality and potency.