Many people grew up hearing that eating carrots is good for your eyes. Like many old sayings, this one has more than a grain of truth. Carrots do contain nutrients that can benefit your eyes. Eating carrots, however, won’t fix specific eye problems and they don’t make your eyes “stronger,” although they may help prevent certain nutritional deficiencies that can lead to vision loss.
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The nutrient most responsible for eye health in carrot, called beta-carotene, is a carotenoid. Carotenoids turn into a usable form of vitamin A called retinol in the body after ingestion. Retinol is one type of vitamin A, a group of compounds that act as antioxidants, that removes damaging free radicals from the cells of the eyes and other parts of the body.
Vitamin A protects the surface of the eye, the cornea, from damage. Vitamin A supplements -- taken in combination with vitamins C and E and two other antioxidants, zinc and copper -- called the AREDS, an age-related macular degeneration formula, can reduce the risk of developing wet macular degeneration in some people. Vitamin A and lutein together may protect against vision loss from retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disorder that affects 1 in 4,000 people in the United States, according to Medline Plus. While eating carrots may not have the same effect as taking high-dose supplements, beta-carotene taken in conjunction with other vitamins does help protect against certain types of vision loss.
Vitamin A deficiency is a leading cause of blindness in developing countries, with between 250,000 and 500,000 children going blind from the disease each year, according to All About Vision. Increasing dietary intake of vitamin A can prevent vitamin A deficiency. Taking beta-carotene, along with other vitamins in the AREDS formula, reduces the risk of wet macular degeneration, one of the leading causes of vision loss in people over age 65, according to All About Vision. People who do not have macular degeneration, however, don’t appear to benefit from the supplements.
Eating too many carrots can cause your skin to develop a yellowish tinge but won’t cause serious damage. The form of vitamin A found in carrots is water-soluble and doesn’t accumulate in your body like vitamin A from animal sources or supplements can. Smokers should not take beta-carotene supplements, which may increase the risk of developing lung cancer in smokers. Taking too many vitamin A supplements can cause birth defects, decreased bone density and problems with the nervous system, but eating carrots won’t cause these effects.
Carrots contain nutrients and antioxidants that can help prevent certain eye diseases, such as vitamin A deficiency, and also benefit your eyes and the rest of your body in a number of ways. Carrots won’t, however, improve poor eyesight caused by nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism or other structural problems in the eye. Eating carrots also won’t improve eyes already damaged by diseases such as macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy.