Many vitamins and nutrients help support your eye function. Deficiencies can affect your vision.
Your eyes are complex organs that need many different vitamins and nutrients to function properly.
Though a variety of different factors cause these conditions, nutrition seems to have an influence on all of them — at least in part.
Here are 9 key vitamins and nutrients that help maintain eye health.
This vitamin is also a component of rhodopsin, a protein in your eyes that allows you to see in low light conditions (
Xerophthalmia is a progressive eye disease that begins with night blindness. If vitamin A deficiency continues, your tear ducts and eyes can dry out. Eventually, your cornea softens, resulting in irreversible blindness (
One seven-year study in 3,640 people with AMD showed that taking 400 IU (international unit) of vitamin E and several other nutrients in a daily supplement called age-related eye disease studies (AREDS) reduced the risk of progressing to advanced stages by 25% (
In addition, some studies suggest that diets high in vitamin E may help prevent age-related cataracts. However, more research is needed as some studies show no association between vitamin E and this condition (
Nonetheless, a diet that includes adequate vitamin E is recommended to maintain proper eye health. Some vitamin E-rich options include nuts, seeds, and cooking oils. Salmon, avocado, and leafy green vegetables are also good sources (
Like vitamin E, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that may protect your eyes against damaging free radicals (
Vitamin C and several other nutrients are used in the supplement AREDS, which may benefit those with AMD. When taken daily, one study suggests that AREDS may reduce the risk of this condition progressing by 25% (
Several observational studies suggest that vitamin C may help lower your risk of developing cataracts, a condition that causes your eye to become cloudy and impairs vision (
For example, one observational study showed a 75% reduced risk of developing cataracts when the daily vitamin C intake was above 490 mg, compared to 125 mg or less (
However, more research is needed to confirm the benefits of these supplements. In addition, it’s unclear if increasing your intake of vitamin B-rich foods would have similar effects.
In particular, scientists are studying riboflavin’s potential to prevent cataracts, as prolonged riboflavin deficiency may lead to this condition. Interestingly, many individuals with cataracts also are deficient in this antioxidant (
One study found a 31–51% decreased risk of cataract development when participants’ diets included 1.6–2.2 mg of riboflavin per day, compared to .08 mg per day (
Health authorities recommend consuming 1.1–1.3 mg of riboflavin per day. It’s usually easy to achieve this amount, as many foods are high in riboflavin. Some examples include oats, milk, yogurt, beef, and fortified cereals (
Recently, studies have suggested that niacin may play a role in the prevention of glaucoma, a condition in which the optic nerve of your eye becomes damaged (
For example, an observational study on the nutrient consumption of Korean adults and their risk for glaucoma found an association between low dietary intake of niacin and this condition (
In addition, an animal study showed that high doses of niacin supplements were effective in preventing glaucoma (
Overall, more research on the potential link between niacin and glaucoma is needed.
Supplements should be used with caution. When consumed in high amounts of 1.5–5 grams per day, niacin may pose adverse effects to the eyes, including blurred vision, macular damage, and inflammation of the cornea (
A randomized, controlled study found potential benefits of lutein for people with cataracts. Over two years, those taking supplements containing 15 mg of lutein three times per week experienced improvements in vision (
Recommended daily intakes and safe supplemental doses have not been established for these compounds. However, up to 20 mg of lutein per day for 2 years has been used in studies without adverse effects (
Nonetheless, supplements may not be necessary. As little as 6 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin may yield benefits, and a diet rich in fruits and vegetables naturally provides this amount. Cooked spinach, kale, and collard greens are particularly high in these carotenoids (
Besides helping form the cells of your eye, omega-3 fats have anti-inflammatory properties, which may play a role in the prevention of diabetic retinopathy.
A review of 31 studies suggested that diets high in oily fish — such as the traditional Mediterranean diet — may protect against diabetic retinopathy. Although these findings need to be corroborated with more research, they imply that fatty acids may be responsible (
Omega-3 fats may also benefit individuals with dry eye disease by helping them produce more tears. With this condition, a lack of tears causes dryness, discomfort, and occasional blurry vision (
Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and may help prevent diabetic retinopathy when included in your diet. These fats may also aid those with dry eye disease.
An observational study of 2,900 people in Australia suggests that a diet high in thiamine reduces your risk of developing cataracts by 40%. This study also indicates that protein, vitamin A, niacin, and riboflavin may protect against cataracts (
What’s more, thiamine has been proposed as a potential treatment for the early stages of diabetic retinopathy.
Research suggests that certain vitamins and nutrients may help prevent or slow the progression of several different eye conditions.
Supplements may be beneficial if you suspect you’re missing any of these vitamins in your diet.
However, eating a nutrient-dense diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and healthy fats will provide you with all the nutrients your eyes — and the rest of your body — need for optimal health.