Vitamins, Minerals, and Carotenoids
Research has shown that incorporating certain vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids into your diet can not only lower the risk of certain eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration and cataracts, but also can help maintain or enhance some visual skills that are essential for optimal sports performance.
But trying to keep track of what all these vitamins and minerals do can be confusing. Your eye care doctor can offer you advice on proper nutrition and vitamin/mineral supplementation to help keep your eyes healthy and protect your vision. Additionally, at the bottom of this page, you will find links to several resources where you can learn more about how certain vitamins and minerals can contribute to the health of your eyes and add value to your performance for the sports you play.
Vision is key for optimal performance for gamers and athletes. Recent research suggests that carotenoids are one such beneficial nutritional supplement that can play a role in maintaining or enhancing visual abilities that are important for sports performance.
Carotenoids are natural pigments that give the green, yellow, orange, and red color to fruits and vegetables. They have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and immune system benefits that are important for your overall health and they help protect the eyes from damaging high-energy light from the sun -- like ultraviolet rays (UV) and blue light.
Eating carotenoid-rich foods, like yams, kale, spinach, watermelon, cantaloupe, tomatoes, carrots, and oranges, can help protect the healthy cells in the eye, strengthen your immune system and overall health. However, it’s difficult for most people to consume enough dietary carotenoids to protect eyes from UV and blue light damage. While nearly 600 different types of carotenoids exist in nature1, only about 50 carotenoids are found in a typical human diet.2
While there are hundreds of carotenoids found in nature, only three, Lutein, Zeaxanthin, and Meso-zeaxanthin, are found in the eye, located in the macula, the most sensitive part of the retina in the back of the eye.
The macula is responsible for central vision (what is directly ahead of you) whereas the rest of the retina provides peripheral vision. It also is essential for certain visual skills that impact sports performance, such as contrast sensitivity (the ability to quickly identify and track objects against various backgrounds), glare recovery (the ability to quickly adapt from various changes in lighting), and speed of visual processing (how quickly you process visual information when change is happening rapidly),
Studies have found a strong relation between levels of the macular carotenoids and several parameters of visual performance that can benefit sports performance, including visual processing speed.3 Increases in processing speed yield faster reaction times, more accurate prediction of events, and better anticipation/decision making.
Most nutrition formulations designed to protect the eye will include one or more of these macular carotenoids. For more on Improving Visual Performance Through Nutrition and Supplementation, click here. Make sure to talk with your eye care doctor before starting any regimen of eye vitamins.
- American Optometric Association: Diet & Nutrition
- Eye Smart (Information from the American Academy of Ophthalmology): Diet and Nutrition
- All About Vision (includes links to multiple articles about Eye Nutrition)
- WebMD: Good Foods for Eye Health
- Live Science.com: What are Carotenoids?
- Paliwal, C.; Ghosh, T.; George, B.; Pancha, I.; Maurya, R.; Chokshi, K.; Ghosh, A.; Mishra, S. Microalgal carotenoids: Potential nutraceutical compounds with chemotaxonomic importance. Algal Res. 2016, 15, 24–31.
- Khachik, F. Distribution and metabolism of dietary carotenoids in humans as a criterion for development of nutritional supplements. Pure Appl. Chem. 2006, 78, 1551–1557.
- Renzi LM, Bovier ER, Hammond BR Jr. A role for the macular carotenoids in visual motor response. Nutr Neurosci. 2013;16(6):262-268.
This important health information has been made available thanks to an educational grant provided by MacuHealth. Reference to any specific commercial product, process, or service does not constitute endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by ISVA.