In addition to eating the right foods, taking supplements can help prevent disease and keep your eyes healthy.

Q: Eyesight problems run in my family, and I would like to start preventing them now. Are there supplements I can take to help keep my eyes healthy?

A: Yes, in addition to making the appropriate diet and lifestyle changes, there are a few supplements that may help prevent cataracts and macular degeneration, as well as promote overall eye health.

Cataracts: If you are concerned about cataracts and want to consider supplements in addition to the food fixes, my only recommendation is for a multivitamin. It is important to get the necessary amounts of the cataract-fighting B vitamins, along with a basic amount of vitamins C and E. Look for a standard multivitamin that contains 100 percent DV of vitamins C and E, as well as riboflavin (B2) and niacin (B3). Supplements with “mega” doses of any vitamin or mineral are not recommended.

Macular degeneration: For people who are at risk for macular degeneration, the following supplements may help prevent or delay the onset of the disease.

  • Multivitamin. I recommend that everyone takes a multivitamin. One that provides 100 percent DV for vitamin C, zinc, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folic acid, as well as some beta-carotene. In addition, look for a multivitamin that provides only 100 percent DV for vitamin E (this amount is safe, but high dosages have been linked to certain heart risks).

And speak with your doctor about these additional supplements:

  • Omega-3 fish oil. If you can’t get enough omega-3 fats through diet alone, you may want to consider fish-oil supplements. I recommend 1,000 mg daily coming from a combination of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), the two most beneficial types of omega-3 fats. Because the amount of EPA+DHA per capsule varies widely among brands, you’ll need to read the label and add up the individual milligrams yourself to determine how many pills it will take to reach 1,000 mg total EPA+DHA. Store pills in the fridge to prevent the fish oils from going rancid. To avoid fishy burps, take with food and choose enteric-coated varieties, which are designed to dissolve in the intestines instead of the stomach. Because fish oil acts as a blood thinner, it should not be taken by people who have hemophilia or who are already taking blood-thinning medications or aspirin.
  • Specially formulated “antioxidant plus zinc” supplements for macular degeneration. If you’re at high-risk for advanced macular degeneration or already have the disease, your doctor may recommend taking a specific high-dose formula of antioxidants plus zinc — the same formulation found to be effective in the AREDS (Age-Related Eye Disease Study) trial. This formulation provides: 500 mg of vitamin C; 400 International Units (IU) of vitamin E; 15 mg of beta-carotene (often labeled as equivalent to 25,000 IU of vitamin A); 80 mg of zinc as zinc oxide; and 2 mg of copper as cupric oxide (copper is added to balance out the high level of zinc, which can block the body’s ability to absorb copper).

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