Vision & Vitamins: Food versus Supplements
I am a fan of food. The most powerful health advice is common sense – simple and straightforward. Don’t smoke, exercise, get your blood pressure and blood sugar checked, and have regular screening exams both for eyes and general health. Michael Pollan’s seven words – Eat Food, Mostly Plants, Not Too Much – are a beautiful example of this simple approach. My other favorite is one I heard at a conference years ago – Eat a little bit of everything and not too much of any one thing. Another favorite is – Eat around the outside of the grocery store. The outside perimeter almost always contains the fresh vegetable, dairy, and fish/meats and the center has more of the processed foods. With whole foods (not processed) the ingredients are reliable and unknown additives will not be an issue. Supplements are not regulated like prescription medications so some of them may not contain the listed ingredient and some have harmful additives that are not listed on the labels. It is nearly impossible to harm yourself with food when eaten in usual amounts – “not too much” . One exception to this is eating polar bear liver which can harm the eye due to overloading vitamin A.
By eating a wide variety of foods and not too much, most adults will be able to consume the nutrients needed for good eye health. Foods also contain fiber and other micronutrients that are essential for good health. It is also less likely that food will interfere with prescription medications, although there are exceptions to this. Grapefruit is know to interact with a number of prescription medications and blood thinners may be more likely to be affected by certain foods like broccoli. With mindful eating the eye healthy nutrients will be part of your diet including the colorful fruits and veggies, and in fish and nuts.
With that said, it your diet is poor or if you have early high risk macular degeneration then supplements may be helpful. However, if you smoke then it is probably a waste of money to buy supplements unless you first quit smoking. Other groups of people that may benefit from supplements include pregnant women and people with problems absorbing vitamins. There is no definite evidence to show that vitamins will prevent eye disease, but there is some scientific evidence to support taking AREDS 2 formula vitamins for people with early but high risk macular degeneration. There is also some suggestion that certain fatty acids such as those found in flaxseed and fish oil may be helpful for treatment of dry eye. The effects of vitamins and supplements is very hard to study in a scientifically rigorous way due to the need for very large number of people who will need to be included in the studies and the length of time, possibly years, needed to see statistically significant effects. So the risks and benefits are sometimes not clear for decades. There are also a lot of confounding factors like smoking, diabetes, or other chronic diseases that may impact health whether or not supplements are taken. In fact in some cases long term studies show that supplements may be causing harm as in the case of vitamin E. There has been some suggestion in the scientific literature that vitamin E supplementation might be associated with an increase in total mortality (death), heart failure, and stroke.
The best approach is mindful eating for everyone and mindful supplementation for select people. At worst vitamins and supplements may harm you, and they may be a waste of money. Regardless if you need glasses or contacts, certain people are likely to benefit from select supplements, so do your homework and talk to your doctor and nutritionist to make sure you are making good choices with your health and nutrition. Exercise and don’t smoke. If you have questions about laser vision correction or wish to book a complimentary evaluation with Dr. Anderson Penno, contact Western Laser Eye Associates.