The two natural ingredients best-known for supporting eye health belong to the carotenoid family: lutein and zeaxanthin. Sharing a very similar molecular structure, these natural pigments are abundantly present in the macular part of the eye and in retinal tissue. They protect the eye by absorbing the most energy-dense oxidising light rays and by preventing photo-oxidation of the pigment lipofuscin, which over time accumulates in retinal pigment epithelial cells.
Most adults in the West have do not consume enough lutein and zeaxanthin (primarily found in leafy vegetables) to reduce the risk of macular degeneration. Dietary supplements are thus particularly helpful for increasing levels of these two carotenoids in the eye.
Their efficacy is also supported by scientific studies. One large-scale, double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed that daily supplementation with 10mg of lutein for one year resulted in a higher concentration of lutein in the eye with potential improvements in vision (1). Epidemiological studies have also shown that individuals with the highest retinal levels of lutein and zeaxanthin have the lowest risk of developing AMD, the leading cause of blindness in Western countries, affecting almost 30% of over-65s.
Several studies suggest that another carotenoid, astaxanthin, may help minimise visual fatigue and reduce the risk of AMD. This is the compound responsible for the pink colour of salmon, trout, shrimps and some other shellfish.
Research has also demonstrated the benefits of saffron extracted from the species Crocus sativus, which also contains antioxidant carotenoids such as crocin and crocetin. Several studies have shown that regular supplementation with 20mg of saffron for 3-12 months can have a moderate effect on improving retinal sensitivity to light and visual acuity in those with recently-diagnosed AMD (2-4). In this case, it’s important that supplements contain extracts of Crocus sativus standardised in crocin, such as Affron Eye. Vitamins C and E and zinc may also delay the progress of AMD (5).
Antioxidants appear to support eye health in general. While flavonols, anthocyanins (found in fresh blueberries, for example) and oligo-proanthocyanidins (found in pine bark) do not accumulate in the eye, they encourage dilation of the blood vessels that supply the optic nerve and help deliver sufficient nutrients to photoreceptors. Many eye problems, including glaucoma, are associated with poor blood supply and deterioration of blood vessels. Antioxidants, such as those provided by Eye Pressure Control, are generally useful for reducing the risk of sight problems associated with diabetes and hypertension.
If you’re looking for a really comprehensive formulation that contains all these ingredients and helps reduce the risk of both AMD and vision problems related to diabetes and hypertension, your best bet is OptiVision.
Whichever you choose, it’s important to continue supplementing for at least three months in order to both experience improvements in visual acuity, and even more so, significantly reduce your risk of developing vision problems.