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Beta Carotene & Your Vision: Does It Actually Help?

Beta carotene has proven to be a non-toxic answer to improving vision. It can help to prevent night blindness, and it is also a proven preventive for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and dry eye syndrome.

The nourishing eye supplement also proves its effectiveness as an antioxidant. Antioxidants prevent the production of free radicals, which are oxidized molecules that damage cells in the body. Therefore, beta carotene may also lower your risk of cancer and heart disease.

While no single supplement will drastically change your vision, consuming beta carotene as part of a balanced diet will support your overall eye health and vision.

What Is Beta Carotene?

Beta carotene, known as a carotenoid, represents a subtype of vitamin A. Beta carotene is just one of the over 500 different types of carotenoids found primarily in fruits and vegetables.  

When you eat foods with this nutrient, it helps to strengthen your immune system, allowing you to recover faster from injuries while potentially improving your vision. 

The Benefits of Beta Carotene for Optical Health

When you eat a food that contains beta carotene, the chemical turns into pro-vitamin A. Pro-vitamin A helps to protect the covering over the eye, which is the cornea. 

Beta carotene is safer than ingesting vitamin A in its true form, as the chemical converts to vitamin A in the body. Therefore, only the amount of vitamin A that the body needs is used. 

In addition to protecting the cornea, beta carotene builds up a barrier for the mucous membranes. This helps to prevent eye infections and issues with dryness. 

The nutrient may improve some conditions, such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP). RP, a hereditary condition, causes the retina to gradually degenerate. It can ultimately lead to blindness. 

Beta carotene, which is largely known as a nutrient in carrots, has even gained recognition in the annals of history. During World War II, the UK Ministry of Food propagandized the eating of carrots, something that it declared helped during blackouts. Before that time, carrots were not popularly consumed. 

However, there are other foods that may be better sources of beta carotene, such as kale and spinach. That’s because they contain zeaxanthin and lutein, both of which filter high-energy light waves that damage the retina over time.

Researchers believe beta carotin primarily shows its value in three primary ways. It slows down problems with night blindness, reduces age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and prevents the eyes from getting too dry. 

A Tool to Help Night Blindness

Nyctalopia is a condition that makes it extremely challenging to see in low light, and it is the medical name for night blindness. The underlying causes of this condition might stem from glaucoma, cataracts, or myopia (nearsightedness). A vitamin A deficiency may also be a contributing factor.

Even though a lack of vitamin A might cause night blindness, studies show that taking beta-carotene pills and boosting dietary consumption can help to alleviate the symptoms. Depending on the severity of your disease, vitamin A supplements may work faster than dietary consumption in promoting better vision.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration & Beta Carotene

With age-related macular degeneration, central vision gradually deteriorates and overall vision becomes hazy. One or both eyes may be affected by the condition, which is most common in those over 50.

Although AMD cannot be cured, several treatments can slow its progression. High blood levels of beta carotene and other carotenoids have been found to lower the chances of developing progressive AMD, which often worsens as people age.

In particular, studies have shown that smokers who consume a diet high in fruits and vegetables that are rich in beta carotene can reduce their chance of developing AMD. Moreover, eating meals high in beta carotene, alpha-carotene, and vitamin C is also beneficial.

How Beta Carotene Can Help Dry Eyes

Dry skin and dry eyes are two side effects that can result from a deficiency of vitamin A. Getting enough beta-carotene in your diet can help to alleviate dryness as the body turns beta-carotene into vitamin A.

Eye drops containing vitamin A may prove effective for lubricating dry eyes as well. Prescription eye drops for dry eye relief are typically more expensive than over-the-counter eye drops that include vitamin A. Therefore, selecting OTC vitamin A drops may offer an affordable solution to treating dry eye syndrome.

Your eye doctor can advise you on the most effective course of treatment if you’re experiencing dry eye. To do this, they need to get to the root of the problem first, so you can treat the underlying issue successfully. In some cases, dry eye may result from an allergy instead of a vitamin A deficiency,

How Much Beta Carotene Should You Take for Better Vision?

Research shows that men and women should take 3 to 6 milligrams of beta carotene daily to improve their eye health.

Foods That Contain Beta Carotene

Beta carotene is found in pumpkins, cantaloupe, bell peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, and green and leafy veggies, such as kale, spinach, and collard greens. 

To support your vision and eye health, it’s crucial to consume these foods as part of a fully balanced diet. If you eat these foods regularly, you don’t necessarily need supplementation. Remember, the richer the color of food, the higher the beta carotene content. 

While bingeing on carrots will not necessarily make any dramatic improvements in your vision, you will notice a difference if you include an array of the foods listed above in your diet. Like most nutritional approaches, you may not see the results in the short term, but over time, you may notice improvements.

Risks Associated With Beta Carotene Use

Side effects from overconsumption of beta carotene may lead to joint pain, bruising, loose stools, or skin discoloration (the skin gives off an orange cast). 

During pregnancy, only take beta carotene supplements if advised by your doctor. Otherwise, it’s better to get the nutrient from the foods you eat. 

Added intake of vitamin A may cause some smokers to develop cancer or respiratory difficulties. People who have been exposed to asbestos also have a higher cancer risk if they take beta carotene supplements.

Supplements for Eye Health: Talk to a Doctor

Before you seek beta carotene supplementation, you need to speak to your doctor. 

While beta carotene has been proven to improve eye health, you shouldn’t start taking any supplements before discussing your full medical picture with a physician. In some cases, beta carotene supplementation may not be right for you.

Beta Carotene FAQs

Is beta carotene good for eyesight?

Yes, beta carotene is good for eye health. It can reduce the risk of developing certain eye diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration. It can also prevent eye dryness and aid night vision.

What vitamin is the best for eyesight?

Vitamin A is often deemed the best vitamin to help with vision. Because it contains the protein, rhodopsin, it better enables people to see in low-light conditions. A vitamin A deficiency can lead to night blindness. 

How much beta carotene should I take for vision benefits?

It’s recommended that you consume 3 to 6 mg of beta carotene to support overall eye health.

References

  1. The Importance of Antioxidants and Place in Today’s Scientific and Technological Studies. (July 2019). Journal of Food Science and Technology.

  2. Vitamins and Mineral Supplements for Retinitis Pigmentosa. (February 2019). Journal of Ophthalmology.

  3. Fact or Fiction? Carrots Improve Your Vision. (June 2014). Scientific American.

  4. Physiology, Night Vision. (September 2021). StatPearls.

  5. Getting to the Root of Dry Eye. (September 2021). Review of Ophthalmology.

  6. Carrot History — Carrots in the Second World War. World Carrot Museum.

  7. Prevention of the Onset of Age-Related Macular Degeneration. (July 2021). Journal of Clinical Medicine.

  8. Intakes of Lutein, Zeaxanthin, and Other Carotenoids and Age-Related Macular Degeneration During 2 Decades of Prospective Follow-Up. (December 2015). JAMA Ophthalmology.

  9. Associations Between Fruit and Vegetable, and Antioxidant Nutrient Intake and Age-Related Macular Degeneration by Smoking Status in Elderly Korean Men. (December 2017). Nutrition Journal.

  10. Nutrients for the Aging Eye. (June 2013). Clinical Interventions in Aging.

  11. Vitamins for AMD. (July 2022). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  12. What Is Macular Degeneration? (January 2021). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Last Updated August 9, 2022

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