Can eye health supplements really improve your vision?

It’s hard to visit your local supermarket these days without coming across aisles upon aisles of eye-catching multivitamins, protein powders and food supplements that each promise results far beyond the powers of ordinary food and drink.

Together, these products make up a multi-million-pound industry that’s promoted by everyone from sports stars to morally dubious health professionals. But do they really work?

It’s common knowledge that our bodies require a balanced mix of different vitamins, minerals, and proteins to perform at our best – but pricey supplements aren’t necessarily the best way to achieve this.

Michael Gannon, president of the Australian Medical Association, was quoted in one interview stating that supplements provide “no benefit” to the majority of people and simply helped in the production of very expensive urine.

The fact is, if you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet, then you’re likely already consuming all the nutrients your body needs in order to maintain itself and assist recovery from illness or injury. But that doesn’t mean you should be throwing away those supplements just yet.

The National Eye Institute (NEI) in the United States has conducted two major studies into age-related eye diseases that focused on two of the most common eye diseases in older Americans: age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts. During these studies, researchers found that ‘lutein’ – an antioxidant made by plants – seemed to neutralise light-induced damage to the eye and reduce risks of progressing into late-stage AMD.

Since this discovery, lutein has been regularly prescribed as part of an AMD prevention regimen and shows real promise in even reversing some of the disease’s early effects such as the disappearance of crystalline deposit build-ups in the eye. Lutein doesn’t have to come from a supplement, however, with a study held by the University of Utah suggesting that a diet naturally rich in lutein is just as effective as taking it in pill form.

Lutein is found in abundance in dark green, leafy vegetables such as kale, broccoli, peas and lettuce. For example, 100g of shredded lettuce alone contains around 4 mg of lutein and makes up almost half of the NEI’s recommended dose of 10 mg per day for maintained eye health.

Whilst these findings are fantastic for those at risk with age-related eye problems, the unfortunate side is that there have been very few studies done on the effectiveness of supplements for those suffering from non-age-related issues.

However, some research does suggest that long-term multivitamin use can decrease cataract risk in men, although this only adds up to a total decrease of 9%. The study also suggested that in those who already had a low risk of cataracts, the decrease was next to negligible.

It seems that there’s just not enough research to say for sure whether food supplements can truly provide a real benefit to your eye health, and most health professionals including the NHS agree that those of us eating a regular healthy diet shouldn’t need any supplementation. Instead, that money could be put to better use by making sure to include a healthy amount of whole grains, healthy fats such as omega-3, and leafy green vegetables in our diets.

As always, your GP should always be your first point of call for health-related issues and you should always check with them before taking any new supplements or medication. If you’d like to learn more about eye health and supplementation, you can find NHS’s brilliantly informative online leaflet by following the link here – or by enquiring with your GP.