What current research is there into vitamins and eye health?
Early stage research suggests that vitamins A, B9, C and E, all of which are antioxidants, may prevent age-related eye disorders.1 This is particularly interesting in relation to glaucoma, as it can be identified as an age-related disease.
Antioxidant vitamins are important in all sorts of function in our body. They act at a molecular level, fighting damage to cells, and this is true for the eyes too.
There is also some research indicating that antioxidant therapy could play an important role in optimising treatment for ocular inflammatory diseases, including glaucoma.2 The research, which focused on uveitis, found that antioxidant therapies could potentially be used for their anti-inflammatory effects. Again, this research is still in its earliest stages and still more work needs to be done in order to come to any definitive conclusions.
In the meantime, scientists are still investigating the causes of glaucoma and whether there are steps which could be taken to prevent its onset.
How far along is the research?
Many studies into vitamins and eye health have not yet reached the clinical trial stage of research, and even fewer have passed the stage of animal trials. What’s more, a lot of the current studies and their findings have come up with conflicting results. This does not necessarily mean that the research isn’t correct, simply that the findings need more investigation to find conclusive evidence of the theories being put forward.
Studies into whether vitamin B could be beneficial in reducing the risk of glaucoma have come up with conflicting results.
One study, for example, found that vitamin B3 (also known as niacin) prevented eye degeneration in glaucoma-prone mice. The research found that B3 both averted early signs of glaucoma, and halted further glaucoma development in aged mice already showing signs of the disease.3 It’s important to note that this study has also not yet reached human trials, so until it gets to that stage, we don’t know whether there will be a similar effect on people.
Another study found that levels of vitamin B6 were higher in people who had normal-tension glaucoma and primary open-angle glaucoma.4 More research is therefore needed to establish if B vitamins could be used to effectively treat people with glaucoma, or reduce the risk of it developing.
Antioxidant vitamins C and E
One study suggests that antioxidants such as vitamin E could play a role in changes in the trabecular meshwork — the filter through which fluid in the eye drains away, while another found that people in Japan with normal-tension glaucoma had lower serum levels of vitamin C.5,6
A third study found that the levels of vitamins C and E were significantly lower in the fluid inside the eye for people with two common types of glaucoma (primary open-angle glaucoma and primary angle-closure glaucoma) as compared to cataract patients.7
Is there a link?
Some research does suggest that there is a link between low levels of antioxidant vitamins and glaucoma. Yet, importantly, more research is needed to determine whether any of these types of antioxidants have a direct link to reducing the risk of glaucoma. Therefore, at the moment, there are no commercial vitamin products on the market proven to minimise glaucoma risk.
Will taking vitamin supplements reduce the risk of glaucoma?
At the moment, there is not enough research to conclusively state whether vitamins have any benefits in preventing or treating glaucoma. What we do know is that researchers are continuing to explore this field extensively and that, hopefully in the future, we will be able to take supplements to improve our eye health.
Ultimately, if you do have glaucoma and are interested in seeing if vitamins help, remember that the jury is still out. As such, continue the treatment recommended by your ophthalmologist.
What can I do now?
If you have a family history of glaucoma, early detection is still the best way to manage the disease, which is why regular eye tests are so important.
If you’re interested in learning more about glaucoma, head over to our dedicated glaucoma treatment resource page, where you can find a range of information on the topic. You can also find more information on glaucoma causes and glaucoma diagnosis here, too.
1. Yuki, K., Murat, D., Kimura, I. et al. Reduced-serum vitamin C and increased uric acid levels in normal-tension glaucomaGraefes Arch Clin Exp Ophthalmol (2010) 248: 243. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00417-009-1183-6
2. C.S. Yadav, U., M. Kalariya, N. and V. Ramana, K. (2011). Emerging Role of Antioxidants in the Protection of Uveitis Complications. Current Medicinal Chemistry, [online] 18(6), pp.931-942. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3084581/.
3. Pete A. Williams, Jeffrey M. Harder, Nicole E. Foxworth, Kelly E. Cochran, Vivek M. Philip, Vittorio Porciatti, Oliver Smithies, Simon W. M. John Vitamin B3 modulates mitochondrial vulnerability and prevents glaucoma in aged mice Science17 Feb 2017: 756-760
4. Turgut B, Kaya M, Arslan S, Demir T, Güler M, Kaya MK. Levels of circulating homocysteine, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folate in different types of open-angle glaucoma. Clin Interv Aging. 2010 Apr 26;5:133-9. PubMed PMID: 20458351; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2861848.
5. John Veach Functional dichotomy: glutathione and vitamin E in homeostasis relevant to primary open-angle glaucoma British Journal of Nutrition, Volume 91, Issue 6 June 2004, pp. 809-829
6. Yuki, K., Murat, D., Kimura, I. et al. Reduced-serum vitamin C and increased uric acid levels in normal-tension glaucomaGraefes Arch Clin Exp Ophthalmol (2010) 248: 243. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00417-009-1183-6
7. Amita Goyal, Arpna Srivastava, Ramanjit Sihota & Jasbir Kaur (2014) Evaluation of Oxidative Stress Markers in Aqueous Humor of Primary Open Angle Glaucoma and Primary Angle Closure Glaucoma Patients, Current Eye Research, 39:8, 823-829, DOI: 10.3109/02713683.2011.556299