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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly - Nutritional Supplements for the Eyes

By Jay Stockman

There are many herbal, nutritional, alternative and vitamin supplements that have been suggested to improve eye sight, and prevent ocular disease. While some have positive effects on the visual system, there are others that can become toxic and have a destructive influence on the eyes. It is generally believed that a well balanced "American" diet does not require supplements, and their true value is negligible. While many have some benefit, care must be taken since supplements can interact negatively with other medications and even foods that are ingested. For example, milk negates the positive antioxidant affects of tea, and citrus increases the pharmaceutical benefit of cholesterol lowering medications.

Studies recently performed have concluded that most of the evidence points to a stronger prophylactic effect of these supplements rather then a therapeutic one. Specifically, with regard to Age Related Macular Degeneration, Vitamin E, and antioxidants appear to be significant factors that effect the onset and severity of the condition. Some observational studies have concluded that higher ingestion of antioxidants result in lower incidents of AMD. Additionally, the intake of Zinc has long been thought of, and has now been proven to reduce the likelihood of pigmentary anomalies often associated with Drusen, a risk factor for AMD. Those who took Vitamin E in the Beaver Dam study had a 13% lower risk of displaying AMD. It appears in most studies that the nutritional benefit is in prevention of vision loss in those who had a moderate to sever risk of AMD. It further appeared that the antioxidant had the greatest affect in this prophylaxis, or prevention, and that Zinc worked only in combination with the antioxidant, but not so much by itself.

The Age Related Eye Disease Study ( AREDS) found that the best combination to prevent vision loss was with the combination of Vitamins C,E, Beta Carotene, Zinc and a small amount of Copper. It should be noted that while these supplements did help prevent the visual loss, it also increased the risk of lung cancer in smokers that were predisposed to that disease.

Other supplements that were found to be helpful were Carotenoids such as Lutein which helps filter blue light out of the macular. Zeaxanthin also helps filter out the high energy blue light from the central retina. Beta Carotene is important in the production of rods and tear formation, while Amino Acids like Glutathione protect against toxicity. Another supplement is the herb Gingko Biloba which increase blood flow to the retinal tissue in proper amounts.

With regard to cataracts, Lycopene commonly found in tomatoes, and tomato products, reduces the transformation of the Alpha protein to the Beta protein resulting in cataract formation.

Neurologically, B complex vitamins like B6, B 12, Niacin and folic acid are extremely beneficial. With regard to Dry Eye Syndrome, Omega III fatty acids have been shown to increase tear production after approximately 2-3 months of intake. Also, Potassium ( K) found in bananas, improves tear film osmolarity, resulting in a more stable tear film.

In spite of their positive effects, nutritional supplements can be detrimental, there can be adverse reactions to these super supplements. St John's Wart often used to combat depression can cause photo toxicity and toxic affects in the retina. It can also result in cataract formation if taken for about 5 years. Ginkgo Biloba which is used to increase blood flow, can also cause vein inflammation. This can be a big problem with those taking Viagra or who have vascular disease. Garlic, a favorite of the Transylvania crowd reduces blood pressure and keeps strange people and vampires away, but at the expense of blocking platelet activity. This may result in excessive bleeding, and spontaneous hemorrhaging.

In short, supplements do have a place in maintaining proper health, and disease prevention, but caution must be exercised. It would be wise to discuss any supplements you take with your doctor, so that undesirable interactions can be avoided. Nutritional supplements can certainly help, but they are no substitute for proper, balanced eating, getting 6-8 hours of sleep, regular exercise, and stress reduction. They should be considered as an adjunct, rather than a replacement therapy for healthy living.

Dr. Jay B Stockman is a practicing doctor for http://newyorkvisionassociates.com, and a contributing expert for CleContactLenses.com

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