Can a Vegan Diet Improve Dry Eye Disease this Veganuary?
Are you thinking about taking part in Veganuary this year? Sufferers of dry eye are constantly on the lookout for solutions to their issues to ease their everyday irritation and pain. But could the secret lie within your diet?
There’s plenty of research that proves there is a link between nutrition and eye health. When it comes to tackling symptoms of dry eye disease it’s important to take a look into your diet and what nutrients and vitamins you may be lacking. A vegan diet can be one of the most nutrient-rich and well-rounded diets in terms of its focus on plants and whole foods, meaning you can meet many of your nutritional needs without any animal products at all. This month is Veganuary, a yearly campaign that aims to get more people to try a vegan diet in January. Could trying it out this year help your eye health? The research suggests that it actually could!
Veganuary and a Plant-based Diet
A plant-based diet focuses on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and legumes. That means often vegans eat far less processed foods than those who would eat a traditional British diet. Vegans don’t consume any animal products or any animal by-products which excludes meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and other foods from their diets altogether. It is entirely possible to get the right nutrition for eye health on a vegan diet through proper planning (just as any diet requires). In fact, many medical professionals believe that it could be the best thing for those with dry eye disease as traditional medical advice for the disease is to lower protein, fat, and cholesterol intake.
Hydration for Dry Eye
Plant-based diets rich in vegetables and fruits are often very rich in sources of hydration. Additionally, a focus on health with a plant-based diet can link to better habits for hydration overall. It’s been scientifically proven that staying hydrated through the day can ease the symptoms of dry eye disease – especially at night, making it easier to sleep and function through the day. So if you’re bothered by irritated, itchy eyes then it’s time to start upping your hydration through both liquid intake and eating more fresh foods like watermelon, peaches, and cucumber (all suitable for a vegan diet!). Dry eye sufferers should be aiming to drink between eight and ten glasses of water a day.
Vitamins in a Vegan Diet
However, a vegan diet offers much more than just hydration for dry eye sufferers. Studies show that dry eye can be improved with a proper diet – including a plant-based one. One of the most important supplements to consider for your dry eyes is omega fatty acids. They can reduce inflammation in the eye, especially in the tear ducts that contribute to many dry eye symptoms. It’s also believed that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce dry eyes as they have an anti-inflammatory effect to help the cells in the retina and corneal heal after damage. Most people see fish as their only source of omega-3s as salmon, halibut, herring, tuna, and molluscs like oysters are all rich in them. However, you can also get omega-3 from seeds like chia seeds and flax seeds, as well as some nuts.
When it comes to omega-3s there are three types to be aware of – ALA, EPA, and DHA. The body can convert ALA to EPA and DHA but the amount that’s converted is limited. ALA is a plant-based omega and can be found in many vegetables, seeds, and nuts. However, for adequate eye health, you should ensure you’re getting a good ratio of EPA and DHA. That means a vegan omega supplement might be a boost for your diet in the same way non-vegans often take fish oil as a supplement!
As well as omega-3 fatty acids, there are a few vitamins you should consider for your dry eye disease that a vegan diet can be super rich in. Lutein (often considered ‘the eye vitamin’) and zeaxanthin are antioxidants that can decrease the risk of cataracts and prevent eye diseases. You can find lutein and zeaxanthin in leafy dark greens and avocados so grab your salad tongs and get eating.
If you’ve heard anything about what foods are best for your eye health then you’ve probably heard you need to be eating your carrots. This is because carrots are particularly high in vitamin A content, as are sweet potatoes. Vitamin A helps to maintain a clear cornea, protecting and strengthening your eyes.
Vitamin C can also help preserve eye health, fighting against dry eye which can develop as you age. Vitamin C is abundant in citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, and lemons as well as red peppers.
If you’d like to find out more about what foods you should be including in your diet for optimal eye health you can check out our blog on the topic – read here.
When it comes to the foods that are best for dry eyes, nearly every one of the recommended items can be found in a standard vegan diet, meaning you can easily take care of your dry eye disease while taking part in Veganuary.
Issues with a Plant-Based Diet for Dry Eye
As with any diet, a vegan diet lacking balance and adequate nutritional sources will result in ill health. A vegan diet in which you’re not taking into account nutritional needs and supplementation can also result in nutritional problems that can worsen eye health. Vitamin A deficiency in particular can cause issues like xerophthalmia where eyes do not produce tears causing dry eyes. There can be many causes of malnutrition including eating disorders, malabsorption, and vegan or vegetarian diets where nutritional needs are not met. So while you can see malnutrition within a vegan diet, that can be the case with any diet.
Nowadays, many vegan products are fortified to ensure that all needs are met. It’s more difficult to meet calcium requirements when you forgo calcium-rich dairy foods from your diet by substituting with soy milk as many vegans do. However, there is fortified soy milk available now which can help you meet your requirements and with a proper diet plan to meet all nutritional requirements you can still optimise your health through a vegan diet. Low-fat dairy milk can provide 25% of your fairy calcium in an 8-ounce serving, whereas an 8-ounce serving of original soy milk can provide 35% of your daily calcium needs as well as 130% of vitamin B12 and 35% of calcium.
B12 is a nutrient many people are deficient in – not just vegans. However, the only reliable source of B12 for a vegan diet are fortified foods so supplementing is recommended – especially as vitamin B12 has been shown to improve symptoms of dry eyes by repairing and preserving the corneal nerve layer.
Veganuary and Your Dry Eye Disease
A vegan diet is extremely rich in plant-based foods which are incredible for your eye health. When it comes to tackling your dry eyes some supplementation might be necessary but as long as your diet is considered and varied, you should be able to get all the hydration and vitamins needed to help heal and preserve your dry eyes – and you’ll probably find you’re eating more fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seeds than ever before! As Dr Koetting from the American Optometric Association says, “All diets or eating habits can be done correctly or incorrectly. Knowing what you’re eating, what your body needs and how to make sure it’s in the diet is the important thing.”
Try a month of eating vegan this 2024 for Veganuary and see how it impacts your health. For more information on how diet links to dry eye disease check out our blog on vitamins to boost eye health here.
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