Childhood Nutrition and Better Vision
Proper vision is vital for a child’s growth, development and learning.1 Good nutrition during infancy and childhood maximizes eye and brain health in a way that may protect vision for a lifetime.
What to eat to support vision
Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids, natural pigments found in colorful fruits and vegetables, such as green leafy vegetables, including spinach, kale, and broccoli, and corn and egg yolks.2 Lutein and zeaxanthin are two nutrients that are particularly vital for eye and brain health.
Docosahexaenoic acid is another nutrient that plays a role in proper vision and brain health in children. DHA is the most abundant omega-3 fat in the brain and the eyes, underscoring its role in healthy visual development.3,4
The body can’t make carotenoids, and it makes very little DHA, which means that children who eat inadequate amounts of brightly colored vegetables and fish may not be consuming enough lutein, zeaxanthin and DHA to promote proper vision.
Research suggests that consuming adequate DHA during infancy may improve eye-hand coordination at age 2.5 years and improved attention span at 5 years of age.5
The eyes and the brain are partners in vision
A child’s visual development begins during pregnancy and continues at a relatively rapid pace in the early years of life. Children use visual information from the eyes to understand the world and interact with it.1
The eyes and the brain work in tandem to interpret the environment. As light enters the eye, photoreceptor cells in the retina convert it to signals. The signals travel by way of the optic nerve to the brain for processing. The partnership between the eyes and the brain is what helps children to understand shapes and color, register movement and determine depth.6
By about age four, photoreceptors reach adult lengths and vision sharpness is close to that of adults.7
As children get older, their eyes are increasingly exposed to blue light, which is capable of damaging photoreceptors.8 Blue light is present in sunlight and is also emitted from digital devices, such as smartphones, computer screens and televisions.9 Repeated exposure to blue light may compound damage to eyes across a lifetime.10,11
Nutrients that promote and protect vision
Lutein and zeaxanthin congregate in the retina, where they defend the eyes. Lutein and zeaxanthin protect photoreceptors by absorbing blue light and acting as antioxidants against free radicals, compounds that harm cells.12
Studies show that lutein and zeaxanthin are also found in areas of the brain, supporting learning and memory.13
Preliminary research suggests that levels of lutein and zeaxanthin in the retina later in life may be influenced by the amounts consumed during childhood.14 It’s possible that adequate lutein and zeaxanthin intake during pregnancy and the early years of a child’s life may set the stage for higher macular pigment protection later in life.15,16
How much to consume from food or supplements
While there is no official recommendation for intake of lutein and zeaxanthin at any age, based on knowledge of these nutrients in adult studies,17,18 children may need from 3 to 6 mg of lutein and approximately 1 mg zeaxanthin daily. Teenagers might benefit from adult levels of 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin daily. On average, children consume inadequate amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin because they don’t eat the suggested servings of vegetables daily.19
Seafood is a natural source of DHA, and certain foods contain added DHA.20 The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends children ages two to eight eat three to six ounces of fish a week, while older children need eight ounces weekly. However, research suggests children are not eating the suggested amount of seafood, which means they may not be getting the omega-3 fats they need.22
Supplements designed for children with added lutein, zeaxanthin and DHA can fill in gaps in their intake for these critical nutrients. FloraGLO® Lutein, which is extracted from marigold flowers, provides the same form of lutein and zeaxanthin found in vegetables.
Eye health supplement for kids are available in many forms. For example, FloraGLO is found in chewables, gummies and in liquid form. Parents should select the form that’s right for their child’s developmental stage.
1. American Optometric Association. Infant vision: Birth to 24 Months of Age. https://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/good-vision-throughout-life/childrens-vision/infant-vision-birth-to-24-months-of-age
2. Oregon State University, Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center. Carotenoids. 2016. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/dietary-factors/phytochemicals/carotenoids
3. Lauritzen L, Hansen HS, Jørgensen MH, Michaelsen KF. The essentiality of long chain n-3 fatty acids in relation to development and function of the brain and retina. Prog Lipid Res, 2001;40(1-2):1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11137568
4. Helland IB, Smith L, Saarem K, Saugstad OD, Drevon CA. Maternal supplementation with very-long-chain n-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation augments children's IQ at 4 years of age. Pediatrics 2003;111(1):e39. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/111/1/e39.figures-only
5. Jensen CL, Voight RG, Llorente AM, Peters SU, Prager TC, Zou YL, Rozelle JC, Turcich MR, Fraley JK, Anderson RE, Heird WC. Effects of early maternal docosahexaenoic acid intake on neuropsychological status and visual acuity at five years of age of breast-fed term infants. J Pediatr 2010;157(6):900. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20655543
6. National Institutes of Health, National Eye Institute. Information for Healthy Vision. https://nei.nih.gov/healthyeyes/howwesee
7. Handelman GJ, Dratz EA, Reay CC, Van Kuijk JG. Carotenoids in the human macula and whole retina. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 1988;29: 850-855.
8. Ratnayake K, Payton JL, Lakmal OH, Karunarathne A. Blue light excited retinal intercepts cellular signaling. Sci Rep. 2018; 8 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-28254-8
9. Wu J, Seregard S, Algvere P. Photochemical damage of the retina. Surv Ophthalmol. 2006;51:461-481.
10. American Optometric Association. Light and Eye Damage. 2014. http://www.aoa.org/Documents/CRG/Blue%20Light%20and%20Eye%20Damage.pdf.
11. Algvere P, Marshall J, and Seregard S Age-related maculopathy and the impact of blue light hazard. Acta Ophthalmol Scand. 2006;84:4-15.
12. American Optometric Association. Caring for Your Vision. Lutein and Zeaxanthin. https://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for-your-vision/diet-and-nutrition/lutein
13. Johnson EJ, Vishwanathan, R, Scott TM, Schalch W, Wittwer J, Hausman D, Davey A, Johnson MA, Green RC, Gearing M, Poon, L. Serum carotenoids as a biomarker for carotenoid concentrations in the brain. FASEB J, 2011; 25.
14. Mares J. Lutein and zeaxanthin isomers in eye health. Annu Rev Nutr. 2016; 36:571-602 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5611842/
15. Hammond BR, Jr Possible role for dietary lutein and zeaxanthin in visual development. Nutr Rev. 2008;66:695–702.
16. Martinez M. Tissue levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids during early human development. J Pediatr 1992;120(4 Pt 2):S129. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0022-3476(05)81247-8
17. Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) Research Group (2014). JAMA Ophthalmol. 132: 142-149.
18. Hammond B, et al. (2014). Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 55: 8583-8589
19. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. Nutrient Intakes from Food and Beverages: Mean Amounts Consumed per Individual, by Gender and Age, What We Eat in America, NHANES 2013-2014. 2016.
20. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional
21. US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 8th ed. 2015. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/appendix-3/
22. US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 8th ed. 2015 https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-2/a-closer-look-at-current-intakes-and-recommended-shifts/