Nutrients Promote Eye Health in Aging, Says Panel

Emma Hitt, PhD

April 17, 2012

April 17, 2012 — Several nutrients, including zinc, vitamins C and E, lutein, zeaxanthin, and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, help promote eye health in aging individuals, according to a statement from a roundtable of experts convened by the Ocular Nutrition Society (ONS).

The roundtable, led by Jeffrey Anshel, OD, president of the ONS, included 8 experts in ophthalmology, optometry, diet and nutrition, and primary care. They agreed that there is an urgent need to educate Americans about the role of nutrition in supporting eye health.

"The ONS conducted a national survey of baby boomers on their knowledge of eye health and nutrition (and a few other concepts about eyes)," said Dr. Anshel. "Given our results, we felt that we should develop a consensus statement to guide practitioners on what they need to consider for their patients regarding nutritional support for eye health," he told Medscape Medical News.

The roundtable concluded that the displacement of "nutrient-dense foods by processed foods in the Western, or American, diet is disconcerting, as is the lack of awareness of key nutrients and other modifiable risk factors that impact eye health," and they encouraged eating a healthy diet rich in nutrients.

They pointed out that many multivitamin supplements do not contain nutrients important for eye health, including lutein, zeaxanthin, and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. "Taking a supplement specifically designed for eye health that contains these key nutrients, in addition to a general nutritional supplement, may therefore be a better approach to filling dietary shortfalls," they add.

According to Dr. Anshel, because of this consensus statement, doctors will now have guidance on how to incorporate nutritional and lifestyle suggestions to help patients maintain eye health throughout their lifetimes.

He advises that clinicians should keep in mind that a combination of lifestyle (eg, dietary intake, smoking, exercise) and nutritional considerations contributes to eye health and that supplements may be needed unless patients maintain an optimal diet, which is rare in the United States.

"There is not one "magic bullet" nutrient but a combination of nutrients that work together to support eye and body health," Dr. Anshel said. "We must remember that the eye is a part of the body and closely related to brain tissue. Whole body treatments can be very effective in treating eye conditions," he added.

Independent commentator Paul S. Bernstein, professor of ophthalmology at the Moran Eye Center, University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, noted that this is a "nice summary of the importance of the key nutritional substances being tested in the AREDS2 [Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2] study."

He added that there "is strong basic science support for the value of lutein, zeaxanthin, and omega-3 fatty acids in promoting eye health, and we all are eagerly awaiting the release of AREDS2 results approximately one year from now."

According to Dr. Bernstein, there is an abundance of ocular nutrition supplements on the market, and many clinicians are unsure which ones to recommend to their patients.

"In my practice, I am comfortable with recommending an AREDS2-type formulation containing adequate levels of lutein, zeaxanthin, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, vitamin E, and vitamin C," he told Medscape Medical News. "I encourage my patients to bring in their supplements periodically to review their intake."

The roundtable was sponsored by Bausch and Lomb. Dr. Bernstein has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.