Inflammation and oxidation are two of the most common underlying factors for a variety of diseases.
Due to the rise in technology usage and our environment's declining health, we're susceptible to damage nearly everywhere we turn.
But recently there's been a lot of talk about the power of dietary antioxidants and anti-inflammatories for helping maintain proper eye health and preventing the development of ocular conditions.
In light of that, let's talk about vitamin E and eye health. We always hear about vitamin E for skin health and acting as a potent antioxidant to scavenge free radicals in the body, but what can it do for your eyes?
Keep reading to find out if taking vitamin E supplements and loading up on vitamin E rich foods can actually help improve eye health and prevent dry eyes.
What Is Vitamin E?
Vitamin E describes a group of 8 fat-soluble antioxidants: four tocopherols (α-, β-, γ-, and δ-) and four tocotrienols (α-, β-, γ-, and δ-) 1.
Of the tocopherols, alpha-tocopherol is the form of vitamin E most actively maintained in body tissues, as well as in the blood. It's also the form most commonly seen in supplements that meets the RDA requirement for vitamin E.
The main function of vitamin E is to act as an antioxidant. As fats, which are an integral part of all cell membranes, are highly vulnerable to destruction and damage by reactive oxygen species (ROS) or free radicals, the role of α-tocopherol is to attack free radicals and stabilize them to prevent a chain reaction of lipid oxidation 1, thus preventing damage.
What Causes Dry Eyes?
Ever had the wind blowing in your face for so long that you feel like you can't blink? It's a similar feeling as to when you have dry eyes.
More formally known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), dry eye syndrome is a condition whereby either the eyes cannot produce enough tears to maintain proper lubrication or the tears evaporate too quickly 2.
Dysfunction of the lacrimal function unit (LFU), which is composed of tear secreting glands (lacrimal glands, conjunctival goblet cells, and meibomian glands), alters the composition of tears and disrupts ocular surface balance, thus inducing chronic inflammation and tissue damage 3.
As a result, the LFU can no longer maintain a stable precorneal tear layer, and the eyes become dry.
It is suggested that environmental, microbial and endogenous stress, antigen localization, and genetic factors all may play a role in triggering an acute inflammatory response that initiates the inflammatory circle associated with chronic dry eye 3.
Some other common causes of dry eyes may include:
- Aging—Tear production declines with age, and while this can't be prevented, it can be treated and improved using things like artificial tears and supplements to increase lubrication.
- Screen usage—Excessive exposure to blue rays from electronic devices can not only cause eyestrain and headaches, but less blinking also means less lubrication.
- Nutrient deficiencies—Vitamin A, the nutrient involved in night vision, is also required to keep eyes healthy. Inadequate levels can lead to dry eyes and impaired vision.
- Autoimmunity—Autoimmunity are a group of conditions whereby your body attacks its own cells mistakenly because of an overactive immune system. Research shows that stress to the ocular surface triggers the initial events that lead to localized autoimmunity 3.
Sjögren's Syndrome is a long-term autoimmune disease that impacts the body's moisture-producing glands, namely the lacrimal glands and the salivary glands, and may seriously affect other organs like the lungs, kidneys, and nervous system 4. It is also a rheumatic disease that affects the joints, tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissues.
If you have dry eyes, here are some symptoms you may experience:
- Easily fatigued eyes
- Blurred vision
- Ocular surface pain
If dryness persists, it can eventually lead to scarring of the cornea.
Vitamin E and Eye Health
As we mentioned before, vitamin E's main role in the body is to act as an antioxidant. Given that the retina is highly concentrated with fatty acids, free radical stabilization becomes increasingly important to protect vision and maintain eye health.
What's interesting to note is that when a molecule of α-tocopherol neutralizes a free radical, it loses its antioxidant capacity and can no longer stabilize free radicals.
However, vitamin E is often combined with other antioxidants, such as vitamin C, which are capable of regenerating the antioxidant ability of α-tocopherol 5.
What's more, vitamin E benefits the eyes in other ways besides acting as an antioxidant. It also affects the expression and activities of enzymes in immune cells and inflammatory cells; there's been research suggesting low-grade inflammation is at the root of several eye diseases like uveitis and diabetic retinopathy 6, and even conditions like autoimmunity.
Vitamin E has also been shown to inhibit platelet aggregation and improve vasodilation, thus allowing for better blood flow to the eyes 7.
Vitamin E and Dry Eyes
When it comes to dry eyes, can supplementing with vitamin E actually help?
There isn't a lot of research backing vitamin E as a treatment for dry eyes. However, some suggest that supplementation with vitamin E helps protect eyes against damage from free radicals and generally maintain good vision.
The Support For Vitamin E and Eye Health
Two large clinical trials sponsored by the National Eye Institute (NEI) called the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS and AREDS2) sought to investigate the effect of various nutritional supplements on the progression of macular degeneration among participants with various stages of AMD.
The results of the first AREDS study in 2001 found that high-dose supplementation with antioxidants (vitamins C, E, beta carotene), as well as zinc saw a 75% reduced risk of developing cataracts when daily vitamin C intake was over 490mg compared to 125mg or less 8.
Another study found that vitamin C and E supplementation, along with carotenoids, may reduce the risk of AMD progression by up to 25% 9.
The AREDS2 study published in 2013 demonstrated that the addition of two powerful antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin, to the original AREDS formula also reduced progression of AMD to advanced stages by anywhere from 10-25%.
However, the results partially depended on the levels of these nutrients in participants' diets before starting supplementation. If you want to read more about the power of lutein for eye health, you can read more about it here.
However, despite some positive outcomes, there isn't enough conclusive and consistent evidence to support the use of zinc and antioxidants in treating AMD and reducing the risk of progression. As well, vitamin E alone received little support for preventing things like AMD and cataracts 10.
How To Best Support Dry Eyes
Here are some tips to support your eyes and prevent them from drying out:
- Invest in a good eye health supplement—Performance Lab Vision is one of the cleanest, safest, and most effective vision support supplements on the market. It's a combination of six powerful antioxidants designed to strengthen the natural eye defenses, enhance visual acuity, boost contrast sensitivity, protect the eyes from the damaging effects of blue-light, sharpen vision and support proper blood flow to the eyes, reduce glare, and enhance motion detection. It's an all-in-one formula for complete eye support.
- Protect your eyes from screens—If you're sitting in front of a screen for most of your day, consider investing in a pair of blue-light blocking glasses, along with practicing the 20-20-20 rule—every 20 minutes, stare at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds to give your eyes a short break.
- Wear sunglasses outside—Not only does it protect your eyes from sun damage, but it also protects them from the wind that can cause them to dry out.
- Increase your intake of vitamin E—Vitamin E is widely available in all sorts of plant-based foods. Nuts and seeds are among the richest sources of vitamin E, with high concentrations found in almonds, peanuts, and sunflower seeds. It can also be found in certain vegetables including beet greens, collards, spinach, pumpkin, and red bell peppers.
Vitamin E may not be the be-all-end-all for soothing dry eyes, but it has many other important functions that protect eyes from damage.
As a potent free-radical scavenger, it stabilizes radicals and protects ocular structures from damage, which can lead to diseases of the eye.
When combined with other powerful antioxidants in Vision, it may help to maintain eye health and prevent things like AMD and cataracts from developing or progressing.
- HM Rasmussen, EJ Johnson. Nutrients for the aging eye. Clin Interv Aging. 2013;8:741-748.
- "Dry Eye." National Eye Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/dry-eye.
- ME Stern, CS Schaumburg, SC Pflugfelder. Dry eye as a mucosal autoimmune disease. Int Rev Immunol. 2013;32(1):19-41.
- N Holdgate, EW St Clair. Recent advances in primary Sjogren's syndrome. F1000Res. 2016;5:F1000 Faculty Rev-1412. Published 2016 Jun 17.
- MG Traber. Vitamin E. In: Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. ME Shils, M Shike, AC Ross, B Caballero, RJ Cousins, editors. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2006; 396–411.
- J Tang, TS Kern. Inflammation in diabetic retinopathy. Prog Retin Eye Res. 2011;30(5):343-358.
- MG Traber. Does vitamin E decrease heart attack risk? summary and implications with respect to dietary recommendations. J Nutr. 2001;131(2):395S-7S.
- Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group. A randomized, placebo-controlled, clinical trial of high-dose supplementation with vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and zinc for age-related macular degeneration and vision loss: AREDS report no. 8 . Arch Ophthalmol. 2001;119(10):1417-1436.
- PF Jacques, LT Chylack Jr. Epidemiologic evidence of a role for the antioxidant vitamins and carotenoids in cataract prevention. Am J Clin Nutr. 1991;53(1 Suppl):352S-355S.
- HR Taylor, G Tikellis, LD Robman, CA McCarty, JJ McNeil. Vitamin E supplementation and macular degeneration: randomized controlled trial. BMJ. 2002;325(7354):11.