Good vision is important for many of our activities—learning and comprehension, athletic performance, motor skills, and overall quality of life. Unfortunately, as we age, our vision changes, and our eyesight naturally declines. This can lead to issues seeing clearly, trouble focusing on close objects, difficulty seeing at night and many other visual impairments that can significantly affect your quality of life.
Thankfully there are certain herbs and nutrients that can protect our eyesight as we age. In this article, we'll discuss the best herbs for eye health.
How to Protect Your Eyesight from Within
There are many things we can do to protect our eyesight, such as avoiding staring at bright objects (like the sun), keeping them away from pollutants, washing them or using eye drops, protecting them from the blue light of electronic screens (especially at night), and wearing protective eyewear like glasses or contacts if necessary.
However, the most important things we can do to protect our eye health come from within. Like all organs and systems in the body, our eyes depend on our overall health for proper function. This means that giving your body the nutrients it needs, avoiding harmful toxins, exercising and sleeping well, and taking care of your mental health—and any other factor that affects your total health and well-being—are also important for preserving eye health.
Our eyes, though they are among our most important sense organs, actually have the least protection of any cell in the body from oxidative stress. Every day we are exposed to thousands of free radicals—unstable atoms that can damage cells and cause illness and aging. (1)
These unstable atoms come from various sources—pollution in the air, chemicals in our food or water, x-rays, industrial chemicals, and even the ozone. (1) Every minute our eyes are open, they are vulnerable to damage from these microscopic particles. Thankfully, our eyes have a mucus membrane that protects us from many of these free radicals. Still, over time, constant free radical exposure can damage eye cells and begin to impair our vision.
Free radicals cause what is known as oxidative damage, or oxidative stress, which can affect all of our body's cells—not just our eyes. Antioxidants are the most important factor for combating the oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Antioxidants are stable atoms that can balance out and neutralize unstable free radicals. (1) This is why antioxidant-rich foods and herbs are so beneficial for health and longevity.
Not all antioxidants are the same, however. Some antioxidants—like lutein, zeaxanthin, and astaxanthin—are particularly beneficial for protecting the eyes from free radical damage. (2) The best foods and herbs for eyes are those that contain these important antioxidants, as well as those that contain nutrients and compounds that have unique benefits for eye health.
What Herbs Are Good for Your Eyes?
There are many foods and herbs good for eyes. Some herbal extracts can be beneficial to apply topically onto the eyes themselves, while others benefit eye health from within the body after being ingested. The latter group of herbs is what we are discussing here. The best overall herbs for eye health include:
Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) is a plant that produces berries very similar to blueberries. In fact, to the untrained eye, a bilberry looks just like a blueberry, and both come from the same plant family. The dried fruit and leaves of bilberries have been used as medicine for many years.
Traditionally, bilberries have been used as a remedy for various eye disorders—among many other uses. Many people consider bilberry to be among the best herbs for dry eyes as well as for promoting overall eye health and function. Bilberries contain anthocyanosides, powerful antioxidants that have been shown to protect the retina, build strong blood vessels, and improve circulation to the eyes. (3) Anthocyanins are actually the pigments that give blue and purple fruits their rich color.
While someone can eat bilberries to promote eye health, they are not commonly available in stores and are usually wild-harvested in the mountains during summer months. Bilberry extracts are commonly available as tinctures, powders, or capsules.
2. Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo biloba is a medicinal herb with a wide range of uses and potential health benefits. The leaves of the Ginkgo biloba tree are what are commonly used as medicine. Most people know about Ginkgo's benefits for brain health and circulation, but Ginkgo is also very beneficial for eye health—particularly for the condition of age-related macular degeneration. (4)
Studies on Ginkgo biloba show that it promotes circulation in the body. It does this by relaxing and dilating blood vessels, which reduces blood pressure and allows for more ease of blood circulation throughout the body. This allows blood to circulate better to all of the body's organs and tissues—including the eyes.
According to one study, "Ginkgo is used in the treatment of peripheral vascular disease and 'cerebral insufficiency. It is thought to have several potential mechanisms of action, including increased blood flow, platelet-activating factor antagonism, and prevention of membrane damage caused by free radicals. Vascular factors and oxidative damage are thought to be two potential mechanisms in the pathology of age‐related macular degeneration." (4)
Ginkgo biloba is widely available as a dietary supplement in most health stores as a powder, tincture, or in capsules.
Dandelion is another powerful herb for eye health—among its many other unique benefits. Often people make a clear distinction between the benefits of dandelion root and dandelion greens. Interestingly, both dandelion roots and dandelion greens contain nutrients and compounds that benefit eye health.
The entire dandelion plant—including the roots, greens, and flowers—is rich in carotenoids and xanthophylls (oil-soluble antioxidants), including lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which help shield the retina from ultraviolet rays and reduce the risk for eye damage. (5)
Dandelion greens are widely available in many health stores and natural markets, as are dandelion root supplements. Many people also have dandelion growing naturally (or invasively) in their own yards. If you harvest dandelion yourself, just be sure it is from a source that is not frequently sprayed with chemicals or is not along the side of the road where it can be exposed to exhaust fumes and other toxins.
The antioxidants in dandelion also have anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce inflammation and swelling. For this reason, dandelion is one of the best herbs for puffy eyes or inflamed eye conditions.
4. Carrot Extract
Many people are aware that carrots have benefits for eye health. The benefits of carrots on eye health are due to the high amount of carotenoids that exist within carrots. Just as anthocyanins are the pigments that make blueberries so blue, carotenoids are a class of pigments that give many yellow, orange, and red foods their color—they are also precursors to the nutrient vitamin A and are known to have many great health benefits. (6)
Interestingly, many plant pigments contain an array of health benefits. We already mentioned anthocyanins (which produce many purple and blue pigments) and carotenoids (which produce many yellow, orange, and red pigments), but chlorophyll, the pigment that gives green vegetables their color, also has profound benefits for health. (7) This is why many health experts suggest eating the colors of the rainbow to get a wide variety of beneficial compounds from food.
The major carotenoids identified in carrots are β-carotene and α-carotene (8). Carotenoids and vitamin A are both very beneficial for eye health, and carrots are a great source of them. Carrot extract contains a concentrated amount of carotenoids, so you can get the benefits of these compounds without having to eat a bunch of carrots. This doesn't mean you shouldn't still include carrots in your diet, but when trying to get therapeutic amounts of carotenoids for a specific purpose, like supporting eye health, carrot extract can be very beneficial and convenient.
Chamomile is a popular medicinal herb that is most commonly consumed as a tea for soothing and calming the nervous system. It is also fairly popular as a remedy for various digestive disorders. Chamomile has many other less commonly known uses as well—including supporting eye health. However, chamomile supports eye health in a very interesting and less direct way than the herbs mentioned above.
The compounds in chamomile support pancreas health and blood sugar balance, which are known to have an effect on our eyesight and overall eye health and function. Diabetic retinopathy, for example, is caused when high blood sugar damages blood vessels in the retina. Damaged blood vessels can swell and leak, causing blurry vision or stopping blood flow. (9)
Chamomile is widely available as an herbal tea or as a dietary supplement.
Zuma Nutrition's Eye Support Tonic
Our Eye Support Tonic contains the five herbs mentioned above and is designed to support vision and overall eye health.† This formula contains lutein, zeaxanthin, astaxanthin, carotenoids & other organic active compounds that may neutralize the oxidative stress from UVA rays and support the membrane of the eye.
Our formula also uses a therapeutic extraction process to concentrate the active ingredients into a therapeutic liquid extract that is significantly more potent than regular tea powders or capsules.
All of the herbs in this formula are only harvested when they are at their peak level of potency. This ensures that the active ingredients are as strong and effective as possible. Plus, they are 100% sustainable and wildcrafted, which means no pesticides, preservatives, chemical fillers, or genetically modified ingredients.
Our eyes are important for our quality of life. Yet, our eyes are also one of our most vulnerable organs to the effects of oxidative damage. Over time, oxidative stress can lead to declining eye health. To protect your eyes, it is important to provide your body with essential nutrients and beneficial antioxidant compounds. The herbs mentioned in this formula are among the best herbs for eye health.
If you are concerned about eye health or are experiencing symptoms of declining eye health, be sure to see a doctor so you can get a proper diagnosis and treatment.