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Are carrots really good for your eyes?

Your mother probably told you carrots could help you see in the dark in a bid to make you eat your veggies, but there is actually some truth in the old wives’ tale.

Research now shows that certain nutrients can help keep our eyes in good health, including vitamin A – or beta-carotene – found in carrots.

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What is beta-carotene?

Beta-carotene is the orange-red colouring found in fruits and vegetables such as red peppers, carrots, squash and sweet potatoes. It is a powerful antioxidant, which is believed to help protect us against the damaging effects of free radicals.1 Our bodies convert beta-carotene into vitamin A, where it is stored in the liver. We need vitamin A to help maintain healthy skin and mucus membranes, such as those found in the gut, lungs, and the eyes.2

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Why do our eyes need vitamin A?

Our eyes need vitamin A to function normally. It helps the retina absorb light energy, which allows us to see more effectively in dim light. In fact, one of the first symptoms of a vitamin A deficiency is ‘night blindness’.3 The European Safety Food Authority even states that ‘vitamin A is important for the maintenance of healthy vision’4. Why not up your intake of foods containing beta-carotene, or take a supplement, to ensure you’re getting these vitamin A benefits?

Can vitamin A help prevent our eyes ageing?

In 2001, the AREDS study – a major US study of nearly 4,000 people into age-related eye diseases – concluded that taking vitamin A supplements (in the form of beta-carotene), along with vitamins C and E, zinc and copper, reduced the rate of advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in those at high risk by around 25% over six years.5

Symptoms of AMD include blurred vision – especially when looking straight ahead – difficulty reading and being unable to recognise people’s faces clearly.

A study of 5,000 Dutch people, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2005, also concluded that ‘a high dietary intake of beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, and zinc was associated with a substantially reduced risk of AMD in elderly persons’.6

Vitamin A also fights dry eyes

Dry eye syndrome means your eyes can feel gritty and sore, and they may feel worse in very hot or windy weather. Wearing contact lenses or hormonal changes during the menopause can also lead to dry eyes.7 But vitamin A can help here too. In 2009, Korean researchers discovered that eye drops containing vitamin A were just as effective as some more expensive eye drops at relieving dry eyes and improving blurred vision.8

So, your mother was (sort-of) right all along!

Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please consult a doctor or healthcare professional before trying any remedies.
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Sources

1. Medical News Today. All you need to know about beta-carotene. Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/252758.php
2. Gilbert C. What is vitamin A and why do we need it? Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3936685/
3. McGuire M, Beerman K. Nutritional Sciences: From Fundamentals To Food. Available from: https://www.cengage.co.uk/books/9781337628877/
4. European Food Safety Authority. Dietary reference values: Vitamin A advice published. Available from: https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/150305
5. 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. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11594942/
6. van Leeuwen R, et al. Dietary intake of antioxidants and risk of age-related macular degeneration. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16380590
7. NHS Choices. Dry eye syndrome. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dry-eyes/
8. Kim EC, Choi JS, Joo CK. A comparison of vitamin a and cyclosporine a 0.05% eye drops for treatment of dry eye syndrome. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18848318

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