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Protecting eyesight with vitamins, minerals and Complimentary Medicines

Eyes, Age related illnesses, General | May 17, 2016 | Author: The Super Pharmacist

Eyes, general

Protecting eyesight with vitamins, minerals and Complimentary Medicines

For sighted individuals, it is hard to imagine a world with visual loss. As people age, however, the likelihood of sustaining at least some degree of visual loss increases. In fact, one in three people older than age 65 have some loss of vision. 

Some age-related problems with vision are easily corrected. Presbyopia and errors of refraction in the lens can be treated with eyeglasses, contact lenses, lens implants, or refractive surgery. The other major causes of visual loss are more difficult to treat.

The four major causes of vision loss are age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy. We will review these eye conditions and discuss the safety and efficacy of non-traditional treatments.

Age-related macular degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in individuals older than 65. It causes blurred vision, distorted image, difficulty reading, and central scotoma, i.e. “blind spot.” The risk of developing this condition increases with age, cigarette smoking, and high blood pressure. Age-related macular degeneration is likely caused, at least in part, by inflammation in the retina. 

Age-related macular degenerationA healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, fish, and nuts is associated with a reduced risk of developing age-related macular degeneration.  

People who followed a Mediterranean diet, lowered their risk of developing the eye condition over a period of 13 years in one longitudinal study.
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A reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration is associated with intake of:

  • Carotenoids
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Zinc 
  • Lutein
  • Zeaxanthin 
  • Omega-3 fatty acid 
  • B vitamins, specifically folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12

Calcium supplementation may be associated with an increased risk of age-related macular degeneration.


Open angle glaucoma, which is the most common form of glaucoma, is a slowly progressive chronic disorder that affects the optic nerve and leads to blindness if not properly treated. 

GlaucomaGlaucoma usually causes no symptoms early in the disease, but then causes a permanent and irreversible visual field deficit (i.e. blindness in one portion of the eye’s field of vision).

It is often, but not always due to high pressure within the eyeball. In fact, the precise cause of primary open angle glaucoma is not entirely clear. Nevertheless, medical treatments usually include drugs that lower pressure within the eyeball. 

Some observational cohort studies have shown that people more likely to develop open angle glaucoma have relatively low intake of: 

  • retinol equivalents (i.e. vitamin A)
  • vitamin B1 (i.e. thiamine) 


Marijuana decreases intraocular pressure, but it is unclear whether this drug, which is illegal in many jurisdictions, actually decreases open angle glaucoma incidence.

Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) is widely used by glaucoma patients, but it is unclear whether this herbal remedy provides any clinical benefit beyond a slight improvement in night vision. 

Ginkgo biloba has been reported to improve visual field defects already present in individuals with glaucoma, but larger studies are needed. 

Lycium barbarum (Wolfberry) may protect the retina from destruction in patients with glaucoma, but clinical trials are needed to evaluate this assertion.

Increasing the risk of glaucoma are  the pro-oxidant supplements, specifically iron and calcium when taken at levels higher than recommended limits. Magnesium may also increase risk.


CataractsCataracts refer to an opacity or cloudiness in the natural lens of the eye that interferes with vision. 

Cataracts are the most common cause of blindness worldwide. 

The risk of cataracts increases with age, smoking, alcohol consumption, sunlight exposure, diabetes mellitus, and metabolic syndrome. 

The role of vitamin supplementation in cataract prevention is unclear, but a study has shown that people who took a daily multivitamin and a slightly lower risk (9%) of developing cataracts over the 11 years of the study. No large observational studies or clinical trials have yet evaluated the effect of herbal remedies on cataract development or risk.

Diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is one of the leading causes of new onset blindness in middle-aged people in Western cultures. Diabetic retinopathy causes blurred vision, "floaters,” visual field loss, and poor night vision. The risk of diabetic retinopathy increases with the length of time someone carries the diagnosis of diabetes mellitus.

Diabetic retinopathyThe risk of the eye condition is also increased with higher glycosylated hemoglobin (i.e. hemoglobin A1c) and poor diabetes control. 

Traditional approaches to preventing diabetic retinopathy are focused on controlling circulating blood sugars through diet and medications.

Of the various complementary and alternative medicine therapies for glaucoma, chromium  appears to have a positive effect on fasting plasma glucose levels in the blood. It is unclear, however, if chromium supplementation decreases diabetic retinopathy risk.

Other supplements that positively affect blood glucose levels, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular outcomes in people with diabetes include isoflavones, soy proteins, and vitamin E

Ginkgo biloba and Qi Ming granule, agents used in traditional Chinese medicine, have been suggested to improve retinal health by increasing capillary blood flow to the retina in patients with diabetic retinopathy. Unfortunately, there have been no clinical trials to evaluate this claim to date.
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