"Each day, your eyes are assaulted by the sun, electronic devices, and the natural course of aging, all of which cause oxidative stress-a process that acts like rust in the body," says optometrist Jeffrey Anshel, OD, 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.
Better Night Vision & More
Lutein and zeaxanthin are naturally present in the eye, especially the retina. They're most concentrated in the macula, an area in the center of the retina that enables us to see details such as facial features or words on a page. Zeaxanthin also helps shield the eye from harmful light rays.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and glaucoma are leading causes of vision loss, and lutein and zeaxanthin help prevent and slow these diseases. But even though they're essential for normal vision, our bodies can't make lutein and zeaxanthin.
Dark-green leafy vegetables are a chief food source, 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.
In regard to fish oils: People who regularly consume fresh fish have a much lower risk of developing AMD. In one study, researchers found that people who ate fish at least twice per week had a 24 percent lower risk of early-onset AMD and a 33 percent lower risk of late-onset AMD. High intake of omega-3s from all sources (fish, plants, supplements) was associated with a 38 percent reduced risk of AMD. Another study reported that taking 800 mg of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) daily for four months led to an increase in thickness of the center of the macular pigment, whereas lutein increased the thickness of the outer regions of the macular pigment. Other research has shown that DHA and lutein work well together. Take 800 mg of DHA daily.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in some multis and in formulas designed to support healthy vision. Anshel recommends 6-40 mg daily of lutein, and 4-8 mg daily of zeaxanthin. 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 formula, 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.
Herbal Eye Remedies: 3 Ways
1 - As a supplement: Bilberry
Bilberry, a blue-black berry from Europe, is a cousin of the American blueberry. Its extract contains potent antioxidants that prevent free-radical damage to cells and capillaries that can weaken their membranes. The result is stronger, more flexible capillary and cell walls. Bilberry extract strengthens retinal connective tissue and reduces both the leakiness and fragility of the ocular blood vessels, making it ideal for treating macular degeneration.
Bilberry is especially noted for improving night vision. It also helps to prevent degenerative eye disease and increase function of the color-sensing cones of the eye, improving the brightness of the image being viewed and increasing visual acuity. In 2013, a study examined the eyes of 30 healthy middle-aged volunteers with myopia (nearsightedness). Bilberry extract produced significant improvement.
Many people take bilberry extract, standardized to contain 25 percent anthocyanosides, at doses of 60-120 mg daily, or up to 240-480 mg per day, to manage active eye conditions. Bilberry is just a species of European blueberry, though, so its constituents are very similar to blueberry. The consensus among modern holistic practitioners is that blueberries-and the entire blueberry family, which includes huckleberry and cranberry-work just as well. And blueberries are more widely available, and less expensive, than European standardized extracts of bilberry.
2 - As an herbal compress:
Bring 1-2 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.
3 - As an herbal eyewash:
Make an herbal tea, 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.
Herbal Relief for Common Eye Health Issues
Eyestrain, bloodshot eyes, or light sensitivity:
Products to Sharpen Your Sight
American Health More Than a Multiple with Vision Essentials is a whole-food multi with added nutrition for the eyes from lutein, bilberry, eyebright, and more.
Jarrow Formulas Lutein has 20 mg of lutein and 1 mg of zeaxanthin extracted from marigold flower petals. You can take 1 capsule daily with food.
New Nordic Blue Berry Eyebright uses a complex of herbs, including eyebright, blueberry, and marigold extracts, to promote stronger vision.
Nordic Naturals Omega Vision helps protect your peepers with a blend of highly concentrated omega-3s from fish oil plus zeaxanthin and FloraGlo lutein.
The Synergy Company Eye Protector offers a comprehensive blend of bioactive nutrients and plant extracts, including lutein, zeaxanthin, and bilberry.