Vitamins for Eyes:

The Vitamins We Need for Eye Health

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Here's a group of vitamins that's necessary for long-term good health and that can affect the health and optimum functioning of your eyes.

Vitamin D: This vitamin is vital for the metabolism of calcium and regulates the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from the intestinal tract.

A deficiency of vitamin D results in rickets in young children; irritability, weakness, and softening of the bones in adults; and underutilization of calcium and phosphorus in bone and tooth formation in people of any age.

Vitamin D may have a direct effect on the eyes, and it is vital for maintaining overall good health.

The body can usually produce all the vitamin D it needs; in the presence of sunlight, two cholesterol-related compounds in the skin are converted into vitamin D.

Food sources of vitamin D include butter, egg yolk, fish liver oils, fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, herring, sardines, and liver and oysters.

Supplements are available, but rarely necessary or even advisable, as vitamin D is one of the few vitamins that you can overdose on.

The B Vitamins: The group of B vitamins can have a profound effect on the health of the eyes.

The B vitamins act as coenzymes. They are the ones that see to it that oxidation reactions essential to cell growth and carbohydrate metabolism occur as they should.

Below is a list of members of the vitamin B family.

Vitamin B1 (Thiamine): This member of the vitamin B group is important in the metabolism of carbohydrates; energy production; the synthesis of RNA, niacin, and fatty acids; and the transmission of nerve impulses. In the body, thiamine is used in the production of an enzyme that is a natural cholinesterase inhibitor .

A deficiency of thiamine can lead to impaired vision and damaged nerves. One study found that among a group of people who ate a diet deficient in the B vitamins, there was a preponderance of open-angle glaucoma, while there was no glaucoma among those who ate a more balanced diet. Food sources of thiamine include brewer's yeast, peas, wheat germ, pasta, peanuts, whole grains, beans, liver, and pork.

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): This vitamin is involved in the breakdown of dietary fat, the synthesis of fatty acids, the activation of vitamin B6 and folic acid, and the synthesis of corticosteroids, red blood cells, and glycogen, the form in which energy-supplying glucose is stored in the muscles and liver. A deficiency of riboflavin can affect the mucous membranes and moist tissues in the eyes and nose. It also maintains the supply of glutathione, a major antioxidant, in the lens of the eye.

Dietary sources of riboflavin include brewer's yeast, broccoli, wheat germ, almonds, milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, pasta, kidney, liver, and heart. Processing foods destroys this vitamin, and pasteurization of milk products depletes it.

Vitamin B3 (Niacin, Niacinamide): Vitamin B3 occurs in two forms, niacin and niacinamide. Niacin is often used to lower blood pressure because it dilates blood vessel. It is also helpful for lowering the level of cholesterol in the blood. Because of its effect on blood vessels, some ophthalmologists consider it useful for increasing the flow of blood to the optic nerve.

Food sources of niacin include brewer's yeast, peanuts, soybeans, and whole grains, as well as high-quality protein foods such as eggs, milk, poultry, fish, meat, and liver. Cooking depletes foods of niacin, and alcohol destroys it. If taken in supplement form, niacin can cause a temporary flush shortly after ingestion, and if taken in excess doses over prolonged periods of time, it may cause liver damage.

Niacinamide is not believed to have these effects, however, and is not considered as effective at lowering cholesterol or increasing circulation. The body can make niacin from the amino acid tryptophan, but thiamine, riboflavin, and vitamin B6 are needed for this process.

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): Vitamin B6 is involved in many metabolic processes, including the breakdown of amino acids (important for protein formation), fats, and carbohydrates; the release of glycogen from the liver to supply energy; and the synthesis of antibodies, red blood cells, DNA, and elastin.

Food sources of vitamin B6 include soybeans, lima beans, legumes in general, avocados, bananas, walnuts, buckwheat, peanuts, chicken, steak, tuna, kidney, beef, pork, veal, and salmon. Oral contraceptives and other drugs may deplete this vitamin, and older people often have deficiencies.

Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is necessary, along with folic acid, for the synthesis of RNA and DNA; helps to maintain nerve tissue; and is active in glucose metabolism.

A 1958 study of the effect of vitamin B12 on optic nerve tissue revealed that it increases the strength of the tissues in new cases of glaucoma, but is not effective for long-standing cases. A later study, in 1969, confirmed that it is beneficial for optic neuropathy provided the treatment is started within six months of visual deterioration.

In a 1976 study on laboratory monkeys, scientists produced severe vitamin B12 deficiency in the animals, and five of them developed gross visual impairments. Autopsies of the deficient animals showed degeneration of the peripheral visual pathway. No abnormalities were found in a B12-supplemented control animal.

Food sources of vitamin B12 include liver, oysters, poultry, fish, clams, salmon, and eggs. Since this vitamin is found mainly in animal foods, strict vegetarians may need to take supplements, as may older people, people who consume alcohol, and women who take birth control pills, who may have trouble absorbing B12 from foods.

Folic Acid: Folic acid, another of the B vitamins, prevents anemia, is important for new cell growth, and is vital in the early months of fetal development (a deficiency has been linked to spina bifida).

Experts have found that some patients with visual problems improve when folic acid is added to their diet. It is easy to get enough folic acid if you eat a lot of raw green, leafy vegetables and fresh, ripe raw fruits. Folic acid is also present in liver, eggs, asparagus, bean sprouts, garbanzo beans, whole wheat, and salmon. Cooking destroys folic acid.

Pantothenic Acid: Pantothenic acid might be called a brain chemical. A deficiency may result in nerve and optic degeneration.

Pantothenic acid is important for energy production and the synthesis of red blood cells, cholesterol, and steroids. It also stimulates antibodies and intestinal absorption.

Major sources of pantothenic acid include liver, kidney, heart, brewer's yeast, sunflower seeds, peanuts, buckwheat flour, royal bee jelly, egg yolk, bran, fish, and whole-grain cereals. Before modern food processing, deficiencies of this nutrient were uncommon. However, growing foods in sterilized soils and fumigating stored foods with methyl bromide greatly reduces the amount of the vitamin in foods.

Biotin: Biotin is an energy metabolizer and a synthesizer of antibodies, niacin, and digestive enzymes.

A daily supplement of biotin lowers blood sugar levels in diabetics, and a similar dose has been effective in lowering IOP in some patients.

Biotin is normally produced by the bacteria in the intestines. As a result, it is possible to become deficient in biotin if you take heavy doses of antibiotics.

Food sources of biotin include liver, kidney, egg yolk, milk, yeast, whole grains, cauliflower, active culture yogurt, nuts, legumes, and fish.

If you are interested in experimenting with biotin supplementation, seek the advice of your health care provider.

Choline: Choline, also called a brain chemical, is synthesized with the aid of pantothenic acid and acetylcholine, that trusty chemical messenger so important in the management of glaucoma.

It is also a major component of lecithin, an important compound for controlling the buildup of plaque in the arteries. Healthy individuals normally produce choline.

Unprocessed foods, egg yolks, soybeans, fish, cereal, legumes, lecithin, and liver are also rich sources of choline. Most fatty foods contain choline, but cannot, unfortunately, be recommended because of all the other negative effects they may have.

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