Research has shown that vitamin E, found in nuts, fortified cereals and sweet potatoes, can protect cells of the eyes from damage. This damage is caused by unstable molecules called free radicals, which break down healthy eye tissue. When this happens, the risks for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataract formation increase.
Worldwide, more than 25 million people are affected by AMD. In the Western world, AMD is the leading cause of blindness in people over age 55. The number of people with AMD is expected to triple by 2025 as the population ages.
Studies indicate that vitamin E reduces the progression of AMD and cataract formation. Vitamin E also plays a significant role in the immune system, the health of cell membranes, DNA repair and other metabolic processes.
The human body does not create the vitamin E it needs. This is why daily intake of vitamin E through your diet or nutritional supplements is important for good eye health.
Studies have indicated adding vitamin E to the diet can delay cataract formation. A recent study demonstrated that higher dietary intakes of lutein and zeaxanthin along with vitamin E significantly decreased the risk of cataracts.
The landmark Age-Related Eye Disease Study (or AREDS), sponsored by the National Eye Institute, established that AMD is linked to nutrition. The study showed that a 400 IU/day intake of vitamin E, taken with beta-carotene, vitamin C and zinc supplementation, slows the progression of AMD by about 25 percent in individuals at high risk for the disease. Seven smaller studies have confirmed these results.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that both men and women get 22 IU of vitamin E per day. Diets low in fat can significantly decrease vitamin E intake.
In adults, symptoms of vitamin E deficiency include nerve damage, muscle weakness, poor coordination, involuntary movement of the eyes and breaking of red blood cells leading to anemia.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble supplement that should not be taken in excess by anyone taking supplements or medications that have blood-thinning qualities. Always consult with a health care professional before beginning a supplementation regimen.
Most Western diets are low in vitamin E, which can be found in nuts, vegetable oils, peanut butter, fortified cereals and sweet potatoes. The table below lists foods high in vitamin E antioxidants.
*At this time, the AOA is unaware of any studies that have examined interactions between specific medications and vitamin E. The AOA also is not aware of any adverse health reports from interactions between specific medications and vitamin E. However, the AOA recommends consulting with a health care professional before taking any supplement.