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Supplement Perspectives

For Long-Term Health, Focus on Your Eyes (Part 2)

In my last post, I examined the lifestyle factors that contribute to eye health. For this post, I’d like to take a closer look at the supplements that are worth the hype--and two that aren't.

Blackcurrants:These berries, especially those grown in New Zealand, are among the most antioxidant-rich berries in nature because of their high content of polyphenol pigments that lend the berries their rich purple color. Blackcurrants are particularly noted for their protective effects on eye health, eye discomfort, and visual fatigue.

Fish Oil: Studies have shown that the omega-3s found in fish oil helps prevent and fight heart disease, as well as cancer, depression, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, ulcers, diabetes, hyperactivity and other diseases. You can now add eye health to the list. Harvard researchers at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School conducted a dietary analysis on more than 38,000 women in 2011 and found a strong link between eye health and fish oil. According to the March 14, 2011 issue of Archives of Ophthalmology, fish oil, specifically the omega-3 fatty acids present in fish, prevents age-related macular degeneration (AMD) among women who haven’t yet been diagnosed with AMD. Studies of omega-3 fatty acids and AMD in the past have shown that fish oil helps slow the progression of the disease in people with advanced cases. The recent Harvard study is different in that it found fish oil could actually prevent AMD. Be aware to take fish oil products from companies that follow strict procedures to eliminate environmental contaminants to assure the highest purity of its fish oil supplements.

Editor's Note: Look for SSC Contributor Kathleen Dunn’s take on omega-3s and eye health Tuesday.

Lutein: An essential supplement for eye health, lutein forms a protective shield and prevents formation of cataracts as well as macular degeneration in the eyes. This eye health nutrient can be found in spinach, tomatoes, squash, and carrots.

I have reservations about the following supplements that have long been touted for their positive impact on the eyes:

Bilberry: People have long believed that bilberry enhances vision. In fact, during World War II, Royal Air Force pilots were given bilberry to improve their night vision. Eventually studies were performed on bilberry extract to evaluate its effect on vision. According to a 2000 study published in Alternative Medicine Review, in a placebo-controlled trial, patients received 160 mg of bilberry extract (25% anthocyanosides) three times a day for 21 days. The results showed no difference in night visual acuity or contrast sensitivity between the placebo and treatment groups. This is only one study, but does raise doubt about bilberry and its impact on night vision. That said, there are other studies that indicate bilberry is truly efficacious and positively impacts eye health.

Turmeric: This compound has been reported to protect against cataracts. While many have reported better eyesight from taking turmeric supplements or from having a diet high in turmeric, human data is lacking. Turmeric is an antioxidant and the benefits of antioxidants are well documented, but antioxidants are not a panacea and, as with all beneficial antioxidants, efficacy must be shown in a clinical setting.

As previously mentioned, for those who suffer from vision loss, relying on a healthy diet may not be enough. Ironically, supplements rich in antioxidants can also be found naturally in the body and in many types of foods. However, it's very difficult for someone who suffers from vision loss to receive the amount of nutrients he or she needs from these resources alone.

That said, the worst mistake we can make is to take the health of our eyes for granted. We are habitual creatures. It takes a lot of discipline to Implement some of the eye health habits mentioned above into your daily routine. For me, the most important takeaway is a genuine focus on the health of your eyes. And the focus should remain largely on the issues mentioned above and a long-term commitment to eating right and taking quality, clinically validated dietary supplements.

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