As digital devices have taken over our lives, some companies are marketing vitamins with claims that their product can protect the eye against high-energy blue light emitted from electronics. Ophthalmologists – physicians who specialize in medical and surgical eye care – want people to know that there is no proven benefit in using "eye vitamin" supplements to protect the eyes from blue light damage, and no conclusive evidence suggesting vitamins improve vision.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) treats vitamin supplements differently than drugs. The FDA does not review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed. The law does not require the manufacturer or the seller prove that the claim is accurate or truthful before it appears on the product.
While it's true that staring at a screen for hours at a time does expose you to blue light from your device, there is no evidence it damages your eyes. If you feel discomfort after looking at screens, it's likely you are experiencing digital eyestrain.
But, there is mounting evidence that blue light does appear to affect the body's circadian rhythm, our natural wake and sleep cycle. During the day, blue light wakes us up and stimulates us. But too much blue light exposure late at night from your phone, tablet or computer can make it harder to get to sleep.
Vitamins and Eye Disease
There is one devastating eye disease proven to benefit from vitamin supplements – age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Emily Chew, MD, helped lead a landmark study called the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS). She and her colleagues wanted to see if certain vitamin combinations could help patients with AMD keep their vision. They found that the vitamin formulation they developed can protect against vision loss. But only in some patients. Vitamins can delay progression of advanced AMD and help you keep your vision longer if you have intermediate AMD or advanced AMD in one eye. The study showed no benefit in patients with early AMD.
What is in the vitamin formula? Vitamin C, 500 mg; vitamin E, 400 IU; zinc, 80 mg; copper, 2 mg; lutein, 10 mg; and zeaxanthin, 2 mg.
Dr. Chew says that simply eating a well-balanced diet can support eye health. Obesity is linked to increased chances of developing cataract, glaucoma, AMD and diabetic retinopathy. But eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and nutrient-packed foods, such as salmon and nuts, may reduce the risk of these eye diseases.
Research also suggests that patients who ate fresh fish, an important source of omega-3s, were at lower risk of developing AMD. However, studies comparing patients who took omega-3 supplements with those who did not, showed no reduction in AMD risk. These outcomes suggest that critical ingredients in food cannot be equally matched in oral supplements.
Before taking a vitamin supplement, consider these points from the FDA:
- Let your health care professional help you distinguish between reliable and questionable information.
- Contact the manufacturer for information about the product you intend to use.
- Some supplement ingredients, including nutrients and plant components, can be toxic. Some ingredients and products can be harmful when consumed in high amounts or taken over a long period of time. Some ingredients used in combination with certain other drugs, substances or foods can also be harmful.
- Do not self-diagnose any health condition. Work with health care professionals to determine how best to achieve optimal health.
- Do not substitute a dietary supplement for a prescription medicine or therapy, or for the variety of foods important to a healthful diet.
- Do not assume that the term "natural" in relation to a product ensures that the product is wholesome or safe.
- Be wary of hype and headlines. Sound health advice is generally based upon research over time, not a single study.
- Learn to spot false claims. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.