Did you know that as much as 80 per cent of learning happens through our eyes? That's how crucial they are in helping us understand the world around us. Throughout our lives, various eye conditions like cataracts, dry eye disease, and macular degeneration can affect us. These issues, along with not correcting common vision problems and needing assistance for low-vision situations, really highlight why it's essential to keep our eyes in the best shape possible. Our eyes aren't just tools for seeing – they're the key to how we interact with our environment.1
How do minerals boost eye health?
When it comes to looking after our eyes, minerals are like our secret helpers. They're the building blocks that keep our eyes working well and prevent potential problems. But that's not all – minerals also act like bodyguards against harmful light and the development of age-related eye issues.
Take zinc and vitamin A, for example. They're like superheroes for our eyes. Zinc helps keep our retinas healthy and improves our ability to see at night. Meanwhile, vitamin A is a real champion when it comes to keeping the surface of our eyes in top shape and making sure we can see in low-light conditions. These minerals are like trusty companions in the fight against eye troubles.
But minerals go beyond that. Minerals like selenium and lutein, along with antioxidants and anti-inflammatories from our diet, can lower the risk of age-related eye problems. They act as natural defenders, protecting our eyes from damage caused by oxidation and filtering out harmful blue light. This is especially important as we grow older and face potential threats like macular degeneration and glaucoma.
Essential minerals for eye health
Zinc, a remarkable micronutrient, holds a pivotal role in a multitude of biochemical processes within the human body. It's not just an ordinary element; it's a vital component that contributes to the proper functioning of neurons and over 300 enzymes, influencing critical functions such as immune response, gene expression, cell growth, and division. This essential mineral extends its influence on the development and optimal performance of various organs. Among its many contributions, one of the most fascinating roles of zinc lies in maintaining the health of the retina and strengthening night vision.2,3
The retina, located at the back of the eye, translates light into nerve signals that our brain interprets as vision. Zinc's significance becomes apparent when we consider its involvement in the formation of visual pigments within the retina. These pigments are essential for enabling us to see in varying light conditions, and without them, our ability to perceive the world around us would be compromised.4
Night vision, a capability that allows us to navigate in low-light environments, hinges on the presence of zinc. This micronutrient plays a vital role in the synthesis of rhodopsin, a pigment found in the rod cells of the retina. Rod cells are specialised photoreceptor cells that are particularly sensitive to low levels of light, making them crucial for night vision. Rhodopsin is the key player in allowing our eyes to adjust to dim lighting and perceive objects even when light is scarce. Thus, a zinc deficiency can lead to impaired rhodopsin production and, consequently, night blindness or difficulty seeing in dimly lit surroundings.4
Furthermore, the connection between zinc status and age-related macular degeneration highlights the significance of zinc in the context of long-term eye health. The proper intake of zinc not only aids in preventing night blindness but also plays a protective role against more serious age-related eye conditions.4 To ensure a healthy intake of zinc, a diverse and balanced diet is essential.
Sources of zinc
- Fortunately, zinc can be found in a variety of sources, such as seafood, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Vitamin A and C
While vitamins are different from minerals as they're organic compounds, we can't skip mentioning them when it comes to maintaining our eye health. Among the many vitamins, two are crucial for keeping our eyes in top shape: vitamin A and vitamin C. Let's explore their roles, the benefits they bring, and where to find them.
Vitamin A plays a key role in maintaining the surface of the eye, ensuring that our eyes stay moist and comfortable. Without enough vitamin A, we might experience dry eyes, which can lead to discomfort and irritation. Vitamin A also has a remarkable talent for boosting our vision, especially when the lights are low. If we lack vitamin A, it might lead to night blindness, making it tough to see properly in low light.5,6
Vitamin C plays a role in guarding our eye proteins from damage caused by oxidation. This is especially important for the crystalline lens – a part of the eye that helps focus light onto the retina, allowing us to see clearly. Vitamin C also steps in as a free radical scavenger in the retina, helping to maintain the health of this critical part of the eye. Additionally, it promotes wound recovery in the cornea, the transparent front part of the eye.7
Sources of vitamin A and C
Getting enough vitamins A and C is simpler than you might think.
- Foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens are rich in vitamin A.
- Citrus fruits like oranges, strawberries, and bell peppers are your go-to sources of vitamin C,
Supporting minerals for eye health
Selenium plays a vital role in shielding our eyes from harm and maintaining our health as we age. Its strong antioxidant properties act as a shield against oxidative damage, safeguarding our eyes from free radicals and stress. This trace element also works to reduce the risk of age-related eye problems, making it a key player in long-term eye health.8,9
Selenium's presence in our diet is crucial. It serves as a building block for various enzymes, offering protection against eye issues.
Sources of selenium
- Foods like Brazil nuts, fish, whole grains, and dairy products are excellent sources.
Lutein and zeaxanthin
Lutein and zeaxanthin act as natural shields against harmful blue light, protecting our eyes from modern screens and lights. These nutrients are vital for maintaining the health of our macula, the part of the eye responsible for sharp vision.
Sources of lutein and zeaxanthin
- By including foods like leafy greens, colourful vegetables, and egg yolks in our diet, we can easily harness the benefits of lutein and zeaxanthin to enhance our visual clarity and ensure our eyes stay resilient in today's visually demanding world.8
Calcium's role extends beyond bones – it's a key player in maintaining healthy eyes. By ensuring smooth nerve communication, calcium helps us perceive the world accurately. Additionally, it enhances the coordination of eye muscles, allowing for precise movements. With calcium's hidden support, our eyes function seamlessly, contributing to our overall visual experience.10
Sources of calcium
- Beyond dairy, sources like leafy greens and almonds provide the calcium our eyes need.10
Magnesium, often associated with muscles, offers surprising benefits for our eyes. By promoting improved circulation, it ensures a fresh supply of nutrients and waste removal in the eyes. Magnesium also acts as a guardian against conditions like glaucoma by regulating eye pressure and preventing inflammation-related issues.
Sources of magnesium
- Leafy greens, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and dark chocolate are all delicious sources of magnesium.11
Iron, often known for its blood-related role, is a key player in maintaining healthy eyes. Facilitating oxygen delivery ensures that our eyes receive the vital oxygen they need to function optimally. Additionally, iron serves as a protective shield against anaemia-related symptoms that can affect our eyes, such as dryness and blurred vision.
Sources of Iron
- Including iron-rich foods like lean meats, fish, beans, and lentils in our diet supports eye health and prevents anaemia-related issues, enabling our eyes to maintain clear vision and vitality.12
Do you need mineral supplements?
When it's about taking care of your eyes, you might wonder if mineral supplements are a must. Having a balanced diet with important minerals is crucial for good health, but whether you need supplements depends on you. If you eat a mix of different foods, you're likely getting the minerals your eyes need. But sometimes, things like certain diets, health issues, trouble absorbing nutrients as you age, or advice from doctors might mean you could use extra mineral supplements. If you think you might not be getting enough or need help deciding, it's a good idea to talk to a doctor before adding supplements.
In the journey to achieve vibrant eye health, minerals step forward as indispensable partners, presenting a range of advantages for our vision. Zinc, selenium, calcium, magnesium, and iron come together in a synergistic alliance, contributing to different facets of ocular wellness. Their roles span from improving night vision to safeguarding against anaemia-related issues, showcasing their multi-dimensional and vital importance.
Central to nurturing healthy eyes is a well-balanced diet teeming with these essential minerals. When combined with antioxidants such as vitamins A and C, they act as guardians against oxidative harm inflicted upon the lens and retina.
- Russ. Optometrists.org [Internet]. 2021 Update: Vision Therapy for Learning; [cited 2023 Oct 31]. Available from: https://www.optometrists.org/vision-therapy/guide-vision-and-learning-difficulties/2021-update-vision-therapy-for-learning/.
- Mohamad NS, Tan LL, Ali NIM, Mazlan NF, Sage EE, Hassan NI, et al. Zinc Status in Public Health: Exploring Emerging Research Trends Through Bibliometric Analysis of the Historical Context from 1978 to 2022. Research Square (Research Square) [Internet]. 2022 Nov 2; Available from: https://doi.org/10.21203/rs.3.rs-2159295/v1
- Michalak M, Pierzak M, Kręcisz B, Suliga E. Bioactive Compounds for skin Health: A review. Nutrients [Internet]. 2021 Jan 12;13(1):203. Available from: https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13010203
- Zinc and Eye Health. In: Handbook of Nutrition and Ophthalmology [Internet]. Totowa, NJ: Humana Press; 2007 [cited 2023 Oct 31]; p. 355–70. Available from: https://link.springer.com/10.1007/978-1-59259-979-0_8.
- Faustino J, Ribeiro-Silva A, Dalto RF, De Souza MM, Furtado JMF, Rocha GDM, et al. Vitamin A and the eye: an old tale for modern times. Arquivos Brasileiros De Oftalmologia [Internet]. 2016 Jan 1;79(1). Available from: https://doi.org/10.5935/0004-2749.20160018
- Gilbert C. The eye signs of vitamin A deficiency. Community Eye Health. 2013; 26(84):66–7. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24782581
- Vitamin C and Eye Health. In: Handbook of Nutrition and Ophthalmology [Internet]. Totowa, NJ: Humana Press; 2007 [cited 2023 Oct 31]; p. 371–90. Available from: https://link.springer.com/10.1007/978-1-59259-979-0_9.
- Khoo H, Ng H, Yap W-S, Goh H, Yim H. Nutrients for Prevention of Macular Degeneration and Eye-Related Diseases. Antioxidants [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2023 Oct 31]; 8(4):85. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3921/8/4/85.
- Flohé L. Selenium, Selenoproteins and Vision. In: Augustin AJ, editor. Developments in Ophthalmology [Internet]. Basel: KARGER; 2005 [cited 2023 Oct 31]; p. 89–102. Available from: https://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/82770.
- A major cause of blindness is linked to calcium deposits in the eye. ScienceDaily [Internet]. [cited 2023 Oct 31]. Available from: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150119154349.htm.
- [Internet]. 2019. Magnesium and Eye Health | Dr. Sam Berne - Holistic Eye Care; [cited 2023 Oct 31]. Available from: https://www.drsamberne.com/magnesium-and-eye-health/.
- Loh AR, Hadziahmetovic M, Dunaief JL. Iron homeostasis and eye disease. Biochimica Et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - General Subjects [Internet]. 2009 Jul 1;1790(7):637–49. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbagen.2008.11.001