Antioxidants are compounds required by your body in order to neutralize free radicals. Free radicals come from a variety of sources; air pollution, cigarette smoke, artificial chemicals in foods and an excess of sugar in your diet are just some examples. Free radicals also get produced in your body as a result of normal metabolism.

If you have too many free radicals and not enough antioxidants in your body, this can lead to excessive wear and tear; aging you more rapidly but also increasing your risk of disease.

Did you know there are specific antioxidants that can help to protect your vision?

Vision problems are frighteningly common; more than 20 million Americans suffer from severe vision loss. Macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma are serious conditions and they are all on the rise. Tragically, in some cases once these conditions have developed, they are not reversible. Type 2 diabetes is also on the rise and is a major risk factor for these eye problems. Diets high in sugar and vegetable oil, while being low in vegetables are another risk factor.

Carotenoids are a category of antioxidants that have a particular affinity for the eyes. They can help to protect your vision and reduce the risk of these conditions. Carotenoids are found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables, along with some other brightly colored foods such as egg yolks, shrimp and salmon. Examples of carotenoids include beta carotene, astaxanthin, lutein and zeaxanthin.

If you are concerned about your vision, you need plenty of these carotenoids in your diet.

  • Beta carotene
    This is the most well known carotenoid and is found in carrots, pumpkin, red peppers and other orange colored fruits and vegetables. It is also found in dark green vegetables such as kale and broccoli, but the chlorophyll in those foods masks the beta carotene. Your body can convert beta carotene into vitamin A and I’m sure you know vitamin A is important for healthy vision, particularly night vision.
  • Astaxanthin
    Astaxanthin is a carotenoid derived from a type of microalgae called Haematococcus pluvialis. In nature it is also found in marine organisms such as salmon, trout and shrimp. Humans are not able to make astaxanthin in their bodies; therefore the only way to obtain it is through your diet or a supplement. Astaxanthin has quite a unique structure and it is believed that’s what makes it such a powerful antioxidant. It is up to 10 times stronger than other carotenoids, and up to 100 times stronger than vitamin E.
    Astaxanthin helps to reduce inflammation in the body, therefore can help a range of different immune system problems. It has a particular affinity for the eyes and the skin; helping to protect them from toxins we are all exposed to each day. It helps to protect your eyes from fatigue and can help to improve visual acuity. This remarkable antioxidant also helps to maintain blood flow in the retinal capillaries, protecting the delicate retina from free radicals.
  • Lutein and Zeaxanthin
    These are closely related carotenoids found in brightly colored foods such as oranges, corn, red peppers, broccoli and spinach. They help to protect the eyes against macular degeneration, cataracts and retinitis pigmentosa. When you consume these carotenoids, they travel to your retina and macular and act as a light filter, helping to protect the eyes against sunlight induced damage. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are also an excellent source of vitamin C, which is a powerful antioxidant and reduces oxidative damage in the body.

Other strategies for protecting your sight

  • Wear sunglasses when outside in bright light or glare. Over exposure to the sun’s UV rays can promote the growth of cataracts and can cause damage to the retina. You can also delay the development of wrinkles around your eyes by not having to squint.
  • Try to get your blood sugar in the healthy range. Diabetics are more prone to all types of eye diseases, and vision loss due to diabetes is reaching epidemic proportions. In many instances, type 2 diabetes can be reversed with the right diet. See my book for more information.
  • Raw vegetable juices are a powerful way of including plenty of antioxidant rich vegetables in your diet. There are specific juices for vision problems in my raw juicing book. Just remember that most antioxidants in vegetables are fat soluble. That means you need to eat some fat at the same time in order to absorb them well. If you’re eating a salad, you could pour an oil dressing such as olive oil or macadamia nut oil on top. If you’re having a vegetable juice, have it with a meal that contains some fat, or eat a few raw nuts with the juice if you’re having it between meals.
  • Ensure you obtain plenty of omega 3 fats in your diet. These fats are found in seafood such as wild salmon, sardines, herrings, mackerel and anchovies, along with pastured (grass fed) meat and eggs. There is quite a bit of research to show these fats may protect the eyes against macular degeneration. Many people do not obtain sufficient quantities in their diet due to modern farming practices that rely on feeding animals grains. If you need help getting more omega 3 fats, you could take a supplement from fish oil or from algae. All nuts and seeds contain beneficial essential fatty acids. Almonds are an excellent source of vitamin E, which is a fat soluble antioxidant.
  • Try not to do too much close up work. If your job involves a great deal of computer work, or you enjoy spending hours reading a novel, rest your eyes for a couple of minutes every hour and look at the horizon. It is best if you can go outside for a couple of minutes and look at objects far off in the distance. This helps to reduce eye strain and reduces the risk of becoming short sighted.

Good vision is really a precious gift. Please try your best to protect it.

Hussein G, Sankawa U, Goto H, et al. Astaxanthin, a carotenoid with potential in human health and nutrition. J Nat Prod 2006;69(3):443-449.
Higuera-Ciapara I, Felix-Valenzuela L, Goycoolea FM. Astaxanthin: a review of its chemistry and applications. Critical Rev Food Sci Nutri 2006;46(2):185-196.

The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.