Some vitamins and other micronutrients are associated with good eye health.
While people often find it easier to take supplements, many experts recommend getting these nutrients from a healthy diet instead. If you do decide to take supplements, research the supplement and any associated health risks to make sure you don’t waste your money on useless products or endanger your health.
The Most Important Vitamins & Minerals for Your Eyes
The debate about which nutrients are “best” for a person’s eye health is ongoing. However, some vitamins understood to help a person’s eye health include the following:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Omega-3 fatty acids
Good Foods for Eye Health
There are a number of foods commonly associated with nutrients that can help you maintain good eye health.
- While their importance is somewhat overblown, carrots are an excellent source of vitamin A.
- Vitamin C is standard in citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruits. It is also in green peppers and tomatoes.
- Vitamin E can come from a number of different sources, including nuts, wheat germ, and sweet potatoes.
- Lutein (and zeaxanthin) is commonly found in dark leafy greens as well as some other fruits and vegetables like corn, broccoli, and tangerines.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are found in many coldwater fish, including salmon and tuna.
- Zinc is found in red meat, although it is sometimes better to get it from other sources, such as nuts, seeds, and shellfish. This is because red meat also has some notable negative health associations, including some related to eye health.
Why Get Vitamins & Minerals Through Food?
The reality is that research into micronutrients is ongoing and we don’t fully understand what makes for the best nutritional intake even if research has allowed us to understand many of the basics. While it’s true vitamins and other nutritional supplements can help you get more nutrients, evidence of their effect is mixed.
A healthy, nutrient-rich diet seems to be a better way to take in nutrients when it is an option. Not only does this allow you to get the nutrients you need, but it can also reduce the risks of hyper-dosing on micronutrients associated with some supplements. It can provide many benefits associated with healthy eating beyond just getting the nutrients you need.
While the remainder of this article is written in an attempt to fairly examine available research, it should be noted that many experts recommend against taking supplements. Many see a healthy diet as a cheaper, easier, and overall healthier way to get the nutrients the body needs.
Are Vision Supplements Worthwhile?
When deciding to take a supplement for the purpose of eye health, it is important to understand the reality of these supplements. Many people spend large amounts of money every year on products that contain nutrients that aren’t helping them with the issues they think they are. Sometimes, these supplements may even be increasing their risk of other health problems.
For example, beta-carotene is often associated with helping to prevent age-related macular degeneration (AMD) because of an early study by the National Eye Institute. But later studies showed better alternatives.
Additionally, beta-carotene is also linked to increasing the risk of cancer in smokers. As such, vision supplements containing it should be avoided. There are simply better, proven alternatives.
When deciding whether to take any dietary supplement regardless of the reason, research its efficacy and safety via reputable sources that don’t have a financial stake in the success of the product. You should also talk with a doctor, as they often know more about nutrition from an expert perspective and can inform you of any health risks associated with a given supplement.
The Most Evidence-Backed Supplements for the Eyes
With the above in mind, some vision supplements are linked to positive eye health effects. Some of the most notable are AREDS (Age-Related Eye Disease Study) 2 supplements. Many different brands make these AREDS supplements.
These supplements are designed to slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration. However, make sure when taking these types of supplements that they are using the latest suggested formula, which avoids beta-carotene.
There is also some evidence a multivitamin can help reduce the overall risk of cataracts in aging adults. The best multivitamin for you depends on your nutritional intake, and you should talk to your doctor if you want to start taking one.
Be very careful purchasing multivitamins aimed at particular target audiences, such as seniors, as these are often just marketing gimmicks used to justify a higher-cost product.
Risks of Supplement Use
One major concern is that the FDA doesn’t approve supplements, meaning very little is guaranteed about their efficacy. While most supplements from established manufacturers aren’t likely to be overtly dangerous, many are overpriced and may have a significantly smaller effect on your health than marketing materials imply.
Taking too much of some micronutrients, especially hundreds of percentages above your daily recommendation (often called hyper-dosing or super-dosing) can also have a negative impact on your health. Some common health problems from overdosing on various micronutrients include the following:
- Vitamin A: headache and nausea
- Vitamin D: various gastrointestinal symptoms, cardiac symptoms, and reduced renal function
- Zinc: gastrointestinal distress and nausea
These symptoms can become much more dangerous in vulnerable populations, such as infants, the elderly, and people who have certain health conditions. If you experience any kind of health symptom regularly as a result of taking a supplement or experience severe symptoms, contact a doctor before taking any more.
Can Vitamins Improve Your Vision?
Vitamins don’t help your eye health in the way some people imagine. For example, you’re unlikely to achieve a higher level of visual acuity through better nutrient intake. Taking vitamins or eating a healthier diet is also unlikely to cure any vision condition.
Instead, vitamins can help maintain and improve the overall health of your eyes and may help delay or prevent eye health conditions from developing. So, in the sense that your vision might be worse over time if you don’t take vitamins, they can in some ways “improve” your vision.
If you have an interest in taking vitamins, dietary supplements, or radically changing the way you eat for the purpose of improving your health, talk to your doctor. They can help you develop a healthy, comprehensive diet plan while avoiding some of the pitfalls these lifestyle changes sometimes have.
Can Vitamins Help With AMD?
There is evidence that suggests age-related macular degeneration progresses slower in people who consume vegetables that are rich in carotenoids and fish containing omega-3 fatty acids.
That same study suggested vegetable oils and animal fats containing omega-6 fatty acids, red or processed meats, and excessive alcohol might also increase the risk of AMD progression and should be avoided.
Can Vitamins Help With Cataracts?
A person’s cataract risk has been linked to nutritional intake. A 2014 study of epidemiologic literature suggested a diet optimized for “vitamin C, lutein/zeaxanthin, B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, multivitamins, and carbohydrates” may work to reduce a person’s risk of cataracts, although admitted data used was limited.
The Bottom Line
While vitamins and a nutrient-rich diet won’t cure any eye or vision condition, they can support eye health and overall health. Consult your doctor before you begin taking any supplements.
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Last Updated August 9, 2022
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