Carotenoids Can Help Vision Health - What Are They?

Carotenoids Can Help Vision Health - What Are They?
6 min read

As we age, it’s only natural that our eyes lose some of their effectiveness. 

While there are many ways to keep our vision optimal — from regular eye exams to healthy eating habits to practicing good oral hygiene - our eyesight will still deteriorate over time. If you are looking for a natural alternative to maintain your vision health, then we have an option for you: carotenoids. Namely, astaxanthin, zeaxanthin, and lutein

Carotenoids are powerful antioxidants that deliver significant benefits for overall health, particularly vision health. Carotenoids help neutralize free radicals that can damage sensitive vision cells. As such, regular carotenoid consumption can help prevent or reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, and other eye diseases. 

Carotenoids may also help reduce glare sensitivity, improve night vision, and increase contrast sensitivity. This article will introduce the power of carotenoids and discuss how they can help to maintain (or support) vision health. 

How Do They Impact Vision Health?

Carotenoids are antioxidants found in many common fruits and vegetables. 

These compounds are essential to our vision health as they help protect the retina from harmful light damage and oxidative stress. Studies have shown that carotenoids can reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a common eye disorder that leads to severe vision loss. 

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined the impact of dietary carotenoid intake on AMD risk. The researchers followed 10,000 participants over ten years. They found that those with higher levels of carotenoid consumption were significantly less likely to develop AMD compared to those who did not get enough carotenoids in their diets. This research confirms that dietary carotenoid intake is associated with reduced risk for AMD development.

Other research has also demonstrated that certain types of carotenoids can improve visual acuity and contrast sensitivity in people with declining vision due to age-related macular degeneration or other causes. One study reported that patients who supplemented their diets with lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin experienced improved visual performance compared to those who did not take supplements.

Carotenoids are widely available in various supplement forms, including capsules and soft gels. Supplementation is an easy and convenient way to ensure you consume enough carotenoids daily. Several carotenoid supplements are available on the market, including beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.

 Arguably, one of the most popular carotenoid supplements is astaxanthin. Primarily found in seafood, astaxanthin provides numerous benefits, including but not limited to improved eye health, reduced inflammation, boosted immune system, and improved skin health. 

Benefits of Eating Foods High in Carotenoids:

  • Improved Skin Health 
  • Lower Risk of Heart Disease 
  • Reduced Cancer Risk 
  • Better Eye Health 
  • Enhanced Immune System Function

Foods Naturally High in Carotenoids:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Squash
  • Apricots
  • Mangoes
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Broccoli 
  • Peppers (red, yellow, and orange) 
  • Papaya

How to Incorporate More Carotenoids Into Your Diet

  • Eat Plenty of Carotenoid-Rich Fruits and Vegetables: Tomatoes, carrots, spinach, kale, cantaloupe, mangoes, and apricots.
  • Make a Delicious Carrot Smoothie: Blend some sweet carrots with your favorite fruit and almond or coconut milk for a refreshing drink full of carotenoids! 
  • Add Some Sweet Potatoes to Your Meals: This vegetable is rich in beta-carotene and fiber and is delicious when baked or mashed. 
  • Include Squash in Your Diet: Whether roasted butternut squash or zucchini noodles, there are plenty of ways to add this carotenoid-filled veggie to your meals. 
  • Enjoy Some Bell Peppers: Raw peppers contain carotenoids like lutein and lycopene and can be diced up into salads for more nutrition or roasted for an easy side dish.
  • Use Herbs and Spices Generously: Many herbs and spices are rich in carotenoids, including oregano, cinnamon, and turmeric—which makes them the perfect addition to any meal! 
  • Mix Up Your Salads With Papaya Or Watermelon: Not only will they add some sweetness to your salad, but they’re also rich in carotenoids like beta-cryptoxanthin and lycopene! 
  • Try Carrot Cake or Pumpkin For Carotenoid-Rich Dessert: Plenty of vegan/gluten-free recipes combine carrots with sweeteners like maple syrup for a healthier version of this classic dessert! Obviously, this doesn’t apply to store bought varieties are are super high in refined sugar!

Different Types of Carotenoids and Their Effects

  • Astaxanthin: Found mostly in seafood like salmon or shrimp, astaxanthin is a potent antioxidant that helps protect cells from oxidative stress caused by free radicals while also boosting immunity and promoting heart health.
  • Beta Carotene: Found in dark green, orange, and yellow fruits and vegetables, beta carotene is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. It also converts to vitamin A, promoting immune system health, healthy skin, and eyesight. 
  • Lycopene: A powerful antioxidant found mainly in tomatoes and tomato-based products, lycopene may help lower cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and stroke, and improve skin health. 
  • Lutein: This carotenoid is found in dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale. It helps protect against age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by filtering out blue light from the sun that can damage the macula of the eye. It also helps reduce inflammation in the body which can lead to other diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. 

Considerations When Choosing the Right Vitamin Supplement for Vision Health Support

  • Consider the types of vitamins and minerals needed to support eye health. 
  • Read labels to ensure the supplement contains lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamins A, C, and E, zinc, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids. 
  • Choose a supplement from a trusted brand made from quality ingredients. 
  • Speak with your doctor or healthcare provider about which type and amount of vitamin supplement are best suited for you. 
  • Pay attention to any potential side effects or interactions with other medications you may be taking.

Overall, research suggests that carotenoids can widely benefit our vision health, helping reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration — while improving existing visual impairment. Eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables high in these compounds can help to ensure you’re getting enough carotenoids in diet, but supplements offer targeted support for those with pre-existing vision problems.

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