During World War II, the British Air Ministry spread rumors that Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots had developed night vision after eating a diet of carrots. The RAF was actually trying to mask its new secret weapon – radar - which enabled pilots to shoot down enemy bombers at night. Eating carrots may not give you night vision, but they do contain vitamin A, an essential nutrient for eye development and maintaining good eyesight.
Vitamin A is an antioxidant that protects the cornea, or outer surface, of the eye. It also maintains the function of the retina, the light-sensitive lining that converts light into nerve impulses sent to the brain. Vitamin A is especially important for scotopic (low-light) vision and color vision. Biologists have discovered that there is more vitamin A found in the retina and other eye tissue than in any other part of the body.
Research has concluded that vitamin A deficiency is a rare cause of night blindness and frequently the cause of vision problems for children in developing countries. Vitamin A helps eyesight because your eyes need it to adjust between light and dark. While studies are not conclusive, research suggests that vitamin A can also be used to prevent and treat:
When used in combination with vitamin E, vitamin A may even decrease the recovery time for laser eye surgery. *
As already mentioned, eating carrots provides vitamin A to help eyesight. However, many other foods also contain vitamin A. Vitamin A comes in two main types – retinol a.k.a. preformed vitamin A, found in animal products, and carotene a.k.a. provitamin A, found in fruits and vegetables with orange, yellow or dark green pigments. Retinol, when converted to retinal, is an important component of light-sensitive cells called rods and cones found in the retina.
The following foods contain vitamin A:
Dietary supplements may also be used to treat vitamin A deficiencies.
Vitamin C– An antioxidant, this vitamin helps to reduce the risk of cataracts, reduce eye pressure and reduce the likeliness of vision loss from macular degeneration. This vitamin is found in high concentration in the clear layer of liquid inside the eye called the vitreous humor.**
Vitamin D – Found in fish, dairy and eggs, this vitamin can help prevent age-related macular degeneration. Sunlight also assists in producing a healthy dose of vitamin D, but research shows that the most eye-related benefits are gained by getting the vitamin through food.
Vitamin E – A powerful antioxidant, vitamin E shields your eyes against UV rays, reduces the risk of cataracts, prevents eye cell damage and contributes to eye muscle movement. Eggs, nuts, leafy greens, whole grains and vegetable oils contain this vitamin.
*The U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health
** Herschell H. Boyd, M.D., “Eye Pressure Lowering Effect of Vitamin C,” Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, Vol. 10, No. 3 &4, 1995.
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