The two most important ones for promoting eye health and preventing vision loss are vitamin A and beta-carotene. What are these vitamins and what makes them so special?
The term “vitamin A” doesn’t refer to just one thing, but to an entire group of fat-soluble compounds. Two forms of it are available in the foods we eat: performed vitamin A and provitamin A carotenoids. Animal products like liver, fish, meat, and dairy products are great sources of performed vitamin A, while the provitamin form comes from leafy green vegetables, orange and yellow vegetables, tomato products, fruits, and some vegetable oils.
One of the most important benefits vitamin A has for our eyes is reducing the risk of macular degeneration and vision loss. It also boosts the immune system, helping soothe eye inflammation and decreasing our chance of developing eye infections.
Beta-carotene is another provitamin carotenoid. It’s actually what gives many vegetables their coloring, such as carrots and peppers. Unlike with vitamin A, you can only get beta-carotene from fruits and vegetables, not animal products. Aside from carrots and peppers, some great sources of beta-carotene include sweet potatoes, spinach, dark leafy greens, romaine lettuce, squash, cantaloupe, and apricots.
You’re probably familiar with the old line about carrots giving you super night vision. That’s actually leftover propaganda from World War II, when the British were trying to keep the Germans from finding out about their newfangled radar systems. But it doesn’t mean that beta-carotene has no benefits for vision.
In a world of bright screens and sunlight, our eyes get exposed to a lot of blue light. Beta-carotene helps reduce the oxidative stress all this light puts on our eyes. Our bodies also convert it into vitamin A, so it has similar benefits to eye and immune health. And while it won’t give you super night vision, it actually can sharpen your ability to see in darkness a little.
Taking multivitamins and supplements can be an effective way to get important vitamins that are missing from your diet, but they also make it very easy to dangerously overdo it. Getting your vitamin A and beta-carotene from the foods you eat (especially vegetables) is a much safer way to get the right amount without getting too much.
If you want to know more about how vitamin A and beta-carotene affect our vision health, just give us a call! We want all of our patients to be as educated as possible on how to keep their eyes healthy for life.