There has been a heightened focus recently on the role of nutrition for eye health. While nutrition’s role in the aging eye is widely recognized, questions remain around what effect specific nutrients may have on younger, healthy eyes.Dr. Graham Erickson, optometrist and professor at Pacific University College of Optometry, summarized the research findings in a recent article published in the July/August issue of Advanced Ocular Care (AOC) magazine.
Listed below are Dr. Erickson’s five key takeaways:
- Specific Nutrients – Zeaxanthin and Lutein are naturally occurring carotenoids that directly affect our visual performance, especially in natural sunlight. Upon intake, the body accumulates these nutrients at their heaviest points in the eyes and the brain. The absorption proprieties of these two nutrients are similar to yellow-tinted filters which work by blocking harmful blue-light and improving our eyes ability to see in certain lighting conditions.
- Visual Performance Effects – Zeaxanthin and Lutein intake effects our ability to withstand glare, recover after being exposed to a bright light, and our ability to discern fine detail (contrast sensitivity). Therefore the ability to detect a target such as a baseball or tennis ball can be enhanced with increased Zeaxanthin and Lutein intake.
- Neural Effects – While the presence of Zeaxanthin and Lutein in the eye is well recognized, these nutrients also concentrate in the brain and influence the speed we process visual information. New research shows that supplementing with Zeaxanthin and Lutein improves the speed our eyes and brain communicate (visual processing speed) and our ability to react by an average of 10% to 20% compared to a placebo. The ability to process information and react faster has implications for a wide variety of athletes.
- Application to Sports – While diets designed to enhance muscle performance are widely recognize and practiced by athletes, new research demonstrates that Zeaxanthin and Lutein can improve visual performance and reaction time, giving athletes another opportunity to improve overall athletic performance.
- Athletes and Nutrition – Athletes have hectic schedules which can make it difficult to optimally manage dietary intake. Furthermore, many individuals prefer not to eat the types of fruits and vegetables that are rich in Zeaxanthin and Lutein. Supplementing the nutrients can return much better compliance that dietary modifications alone. For competitive athletes, care should be taken to recommend supplements that have been certified for content, including for substances banned in sports. NSF International’s Certified for Sport program is widely recognized by major sports organizations.