6 Vitamins You Need Enough Of To Support Eye Health & Function
The first flowers blooming in spring, your favorite color, your partner smiling when they look at you—so many of life’s great joys are based on these simple moments of sight. Thanks to our eyes, we’re able to appreciate so much of the world. But at the same time, I know I (and many others) push the ability of my eyes to the max by staring at screens and not taking proper care of them.
Even now, as I write about eye health, I’m sitting behind a screen I’ve been staring at all day with my eyes supported by glasses that have helped me see since eighth grade. And of course, you’re reading this on a similar screen—and quite possibly, after a similarly screen-filled day.
What are we doing to our eyes? How can we help ease their stress of daily digital strain? And what can we do today to make sure we continue to experience simple and joyful sights in the future?
We often think about supporting other parts of our body through diet and supplements, but sometimes we forget about our eyes. The truth is, many vitamins are essential for eye health, and getting enough of them is more complicated than simply eating more carrots (we’ll get to that soon). Let’s take a look at how different vitamins can support our eyes in doing their thing.
6 vitamins for eye health.
Eyes need special attention, but they can also benefit from all of the nutrients you already know are good for your body. As optometrist Jeffrey Anshel, O.D. tells us, “what’s good for the body is good for the eye.”
Many of these vitamins are ones that you may know about, but they also benefit the eyes in unique and interesting ways. Let’s take a look.
Carotenoids are the bright pigments found in a variety of plants, fungi, algae, and bacteria. There are over 650 types1 throughout the natural world, and about 100 of them exist in our diet.
The body cannot produce carotenoids, so they must be obtained through our diets. You can see them in action in many of the plants already on your plate—including leafy greens, bell peppers, squash, zucchini, corn, kiwi, and grapes.
There are two main types of carotenoids: carotenes and xanthophylls. Xanthophylls contain oxygen; carotenes do not. The most important carotenoids in the context of eye health are xanthophylls—specifically, lutein, zeaxanthin, and astaxanthin.
Lutein & zeaxanthin
Lutein and zeaxanthin are highly concentrated in the macula lutea, a yellow-colored area in the optical center of the retina. These macular carotenoids act as internal sunglasses and filter out blue light.* Plus, their antioxidant properties counteract oxidative stress this area is susceptible to, given the daily hard work of the eye, explains optometrist Neda Gioia O.D., CNS, FOWNS.*
Lutein and zeaxanthin also contribute to night vision and clarity, Gioia adds.* Other research points to lutein’s ability to boost visual acuity2 and contrast sensitivity3.*
Astaxanthin has been clinically shown to reduce eye strain, thanks to its ability to relax the ciliary muscles.*
This action helps the eyes reset and recover from long bouts of concentration—like a workday filled with screen time.*
This incredible antioxidant also works hard to promote nourishment and healthy oxidative balance in the eye by scavenging free radicals4 and supporting healthy retinal blood flow.*
mindbodygreen’s eye health+ includes all three of these carotenoids, with the addition of other eye-supporting botanicals like saffron (which actually belongs to a unique class of carotenoids known as apocarotenoids) and maqui berry. This premium eye longevity supplement helps support eye health and vision acuity by harnessing the unique power of these visually critical carotenoids.*
According to Anshel, “vitamin A is the molecule in the retina that converts light energy into nerve energy.” That means that it’s largely responsible for allowing us to, well, see. Knowing that, it’s easy to understand how vitamin A is essential for eye health. Vitamin A deficiency can impact night vision, affect communication to the optic nerve, and also contribute to eye dryness, says Gioia.
When you think of vitamin A, what comes immediately to mind? Carrots, right? Carrots and eye health go way back, but Anshel lets us in on the truth of the matter: “The reason that this myth came about is that carrots have a lot of beta carotene, which is a carotenoid, and beta carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body,” he explains.
If you have a healthy liver, which is where vitamin A is stored, you have enough of it in your system and don’t necessarily need your body to convert those carrots to more vitamin A. If you decide to take a supplement to increase your vitamin A intake, Anshel suggests looking for the form retinol palmitate instead of beta carotene (or, ideally, a combination of the two).
The B vitamins are good for nerves and nerve tissue, says Anshel. Given the large number of nerves in the eye, it makes sense that B vitamins can contribute to optimal eye health. For example, riboflavin (B2) helps with antioxidant activity and cellular repair, while B6 aids in red blood cell production and reduces homocysteine5, which can lead to long-term eye health issues, says Gioia. She also shares that sufficient thiamine (B1) and B12 are critical for eye function and longevity.
Vitamin C may be famed for its contributions to proper immune function, but this vitamin also works in the synthesis of collagen6 and helps maintain the integrity of blood vessels7 and connective tissues. Vitamin C is especially important in maintaining the health and clarity of the lens, says Anshel.
The lens of your eye, which is directly behind the iris, allows you to focus. Anshel tells us that the lens is about the size of a plain (not peanut) M&M and has the consistency of a clear onion. Because it needs to be clear, there is no direct blood supply to it. That means it has to get its nutrition from the fluid that flows in front of it, which is behind the cornea and in front of the iris. According to Anshel, this aqueous fluid nourishes the lens and has 15-20 times8 more vitamin C than any other liquid in the body.
By the way, the lens keeps growing throughout your lifetime. If you suddenly can’t read the menu at a restaurant anymore and need to carry around a pair of reading glasses, it could be your lens. Losing your ability to focus in your 40s is a lens problem, says Anshel. The lens gets too thick and can’t do the focusing that it once could.
Vitamin E is an important antioxidant. In the context of eye health, it helps with tear production and protects the retina, shares Gioia. It has also been found to enhance the antioxidant activity of lutein9, so it can better protect the retina from oxidative stress. Considering the retina is exposed to ultraviolet radiation regularly, this ability is particularly important.
Additionally, vitamin E’s ability to reduce oxidation makes it important for whole-body health, says Anshel.
Omega-3s like EPA and DHA aren’t just important for heart health and brain function; they also promote healthy eye function. There’s a high concentration of DHA in the retina, where it promotes optimal visual activity10 and allows for visual transduction11—i.e., when light is converted to electrical signals. It's also critical for eye development in utero and through infancy, and has been shown to improve visual acuity12 in preterm and term infants.
Anshel also recommends omega-6s for eye health, specifically gamma-linolenic acid, or GLA. People may shy away from omega-6s because they are known to have pro-inflammatory actions, but the problem arises when they are out of balance with omega-3s. According to Anshel, GLA is converted to a prostaglandin E1 (a mucus-specific compound that helps support healthy inflammatory response) when taken in balance with omega-3s. Then it can dress the mucus layers of the body, like your eyes and tear layer, which helps combat eye dryness. According to Anshel, GLA works faster than omega-3s by themselves in this context.
Ingredients to avoid.
As mentioned above, Anshel advocates for being cautious of beta carotene in eye supplements. Overdoing it with beta carotene can prevent lutein and zeaxanthin from getting to the eye appropriately. Ideally, you want the ingredients in your eye supplement to work together, not compete with each other.
Can eye supplements improve vision?
According to Anshel, it depends on the individual concerns. However, research has shown that lutein, for example, can help improve visual acuity and contrast sensitivity.*
What vitamin deficiency causes eye problems?
Not getting enough vitamin A, C, thiamine, and B12 can lead to eye health concerns. That said, because of the way each of the nutrients above contribute to eye function and health, not getting enough of any of them can be problematic.
Can you restore vision naturally?
While eating specific foods and supplements might not help you get rid of your glasses, they can support your eyes in their daily function and bolster your vision longevity down the road.
Like the rest of the body, the eyes are a complicated system that requires lots of nourishment. Whether you are worried about digital eye strain, your eye function as you age, or even eye dryness, it’s important to pay attention to your eyes’ nutritional needs. Adding an eye longevity supplement like mindbodygreen’s eye health+ to your well-being routine makes it easy for you to give your eyes the nutrients they need on a daily basis.*
Josey Murray is a freelance writer focused on inclusive wellness, joyful movement, mental health, and the like. A graduate of Wellesley College, where she studied English and Creative Writing, her work appears in Women’s Health, Cook & Culture, and more. By expressing her own vulnerability, she writes with warmth and empathy to help readers find self-compassion and true wellness that’s sustainable for body, mind, and planet.