Healthy Eyes with Vitamin A and Beta-Carotene

Optical Health

Tammy George

Keeping our eyes healthy in childhood and adulthood will give us the best chance at having healthy eyes and good vision in old age. Like most parts of our body, our eyes deteriorate with age.

Elderly people realise they will have aches and pains associated with getting old but few think about the possibility of going blind. Poor vision in your twilight years can have a detrimental effect on the quality and enjoyment of life. But what can you do to keep your eyes healthy and does diet have much impact on our eye health?

Vitamin A and Beta-Carotene

Eating carrots for good eye health is more than an old wives’ tale. Fruits and vegetables that are yellow or orange contain a beta-carotene pigment. The beta-carotene is converted in the body to vitamin A.

Carrot juice is one of the highest forms of beta-carotene with one cup equal to 22 milligrams. One cup of pumpkin contains 17 milligrams while cooked spinach, carrots and sweet potato have roughly 13 milligrams. Vitamin A can also be found in non-plant foods such as eggs and liver, but vegetables contain the highest levels.

Diet and Eye Health

One of the main eye diseases linked to old age is macular degeneration. The antioxidants in vitamin A rich food can delay the progression of macular degeneration because the cells and nerves in the retina or macula don’t degenerate as fast.

The blue light emitted from digital screens and the sun places our eyes at risk of oxidative stress. It has been shown that beta-carotene reduces this oxidative stress.

Vitamin A also reduces eye inflammation which can lead to eye infections and vision loss.

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Pregnant women and children are at risk of developing xerophthalmia which results in not being able to see in low light and can lead to blindness. But fortified foods such as breakfast cereals have meant it’s less likely for people in developed countries to be this deficient in vitamin A.

It’s not just our eyes that benefit from vitamin A. The heart, lungs and kidneys can work at their optimum with good levels of vitamin A in our system. You can also help slow the ageing process by eating carotenoid-rich foods because they protect the body from damaging free radicals. The antioxidants in these foods also help reduce the chance of suffering from chronic diseases.   

The Down Sides

But everything in moderation. High doses of vitamin A in supplements can cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, coma and even death. Pregnant women should increase their levels of vitamin A through foods but not take supplements as high levels of these can lead to birth defects.  

Smokers, heavy drinkers and those people who have been exposed to asbestos should avoid taking beta-carotene supplements as research has shown this can increase the risk of developing liver and heart disease.

A diet rich in vitamin A can have a positive impact on our eyes as well as our overall good health.  Try to get a good balance of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables in your diet.

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Tammy George

Please note: Tammy's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic please consult your healthcare professional.

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