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Diabetes Vision Health: Eye Supplements

Your eyes and vision health can reveal a lot about your overall diabetes care. Find out if eye supplements are an option to protect your vision.

Common Eye Supplements to Know

Through an annual dilated-eye exam, an eye doctor can see the effects of blood glucose levels on your body. For eye health, it's important to reach and maintain your A1C target and control your blood pressure. Paul Chous, O.D., M.A., FAAO, an optometrist in Maple Valley, Washington, who specializes in diabetes care and lives with type 1 diabetes, suggests his patients protect their eyes by keeping their A1C at 6.5 percent or lower and blood pressure at 130/80 mmHg or lower.

He recommends early and regular dilated-eye exams by an optometrist or ophthalmologist with experience in diabetes. "You should do it immediately after being diagnosed," Chous says. "At the time of diagnosis for type 2 diabetes, 20-30 percent of patients already have bleeding in the back of their eyes." Damage to the blood vessels in the retina, called retinopathy, can cloud vision. Laser surgery is one possible treatment, but some vision may be lost.

Many people with diabetes wonder if eye supplements can help save their vision. Find out more about five major types of supplements on the market and whether they might be an option for you to protect vision health. Always be sure to consult with your health care professional when considering a supplement.

Benfotiamine

What it is:

Manufactured form of vitamin B1 (thiamin) that is fat-soluble.

How it might help (based on research):

Prevented development of diabetic retinopathy in diabetic rats. May work by blocking pathways that contribute to high blood sugar.

Doses studied in people:

Not known (only studied in rats for eye health). Studies of its use for other diabetes complications suggest 100-150 mg three times per day.

Main precautions:

None known, but it's fat-soluble so not excreted easily like the water-soluble form of the vitamin. Has been used in Europe for more than a decade to treat neuropathy.

Ginkgo biloba

What it is:

An extract made from the leaves of the ginkgo tree.

How it might help (based on research):

It's thought to increase blood flow to the eyes, so it may help with visual problems such as diabetic retinopathy.

Doses studied in people:

240 mg daily in divided doses.

Main precautions:

Potential for bleeding when combined with blood-thinning drugs such as warfarin. May change the effects of glipizide and glyburide.

Lutein

What it is:

A type of antioxidant called a carotenoid. It's related to vitamins beta-carotene and A.

How it might help (based on research):

May lower risk of developing macular degeneration and cataracts. Currently being studied in a major clinical trial.

Doses studied in people:

6-40 mg daily. Kale, spinach, and collard greens are excellent food sources of lutein.

Main precautions:

Likely safe for most people. Few side effects have been reported.

Omega-3 fat

What it is:

A type of beneficial fat found in fatty fish, such as salmon and herring.

How it might help (based on research):

Improves dry eye syndrome, which is two to three times more common in people with diabetes.

Doses studied in people:

1,000 mg twice daily of EPA and DHA. (Paul Chous, O.D., M.A., FAAO, an optometrist in Maple Valley, Washington, who specializes in diabetes care and lives with type 1 diabetes, takes 1 teaspoon of cod liver oil at night.)

Main precautions:

Can cause bleeding risk in people taking blood thinners. May cause gas and/or bloating.

Pycnogenol

What it is:

Derived from the bark of the pine tree.

How it might help (based on research):

May improve early stages of retinopathy. Helps seal leaky capillaries in eyes. "It's like duct tape," says Paul Chous, O.D., M.A., FAAO.

Doses studied in people:

In studies for retinopathy, patients took 50 mg three times per day.

Main precautions:

Boosts the immune system, so avoid when lupus, multiple sclerosis, or rheumatoid arthritis is present.

FREE! Download Best Supplement for Your Eyes PDF

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