Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A when it is metabolized in the body. (Learn More) Vitamin A is an essential vitamin that the body needs to enhance functions of the immune system, promote healing of wounds and illnesses, protect the surface of the eye (cornea), and improve night vision. (Learn More)

Beta-carotene is found in carrots, sweet potatoes, leafy vegetables, cantaloupe, bell peppers, and pumpkin, which contains the carotenoid provitamin A version of vitamin A. (Learn More) It is important to eat a wholly balanced diet that contains these foods, but it is not necessary to take beta-carotene supplements. Instead, be sure to eat foods that contain the precursor to vitamin A for optimal eye health. (Learn More)

There are some vitamin supplements that can help to minimize the risk for degenerative and age-related eye conditions. They can therefore improve eye health and vision. Talk to your doctor about which ones might be right for you. (Learn More)

Generally speaking, it is best to obtain beta-carotene in its natural form, through beta-carotene rich foods. This can help to improve physical health and therefore vision as a result.

Beta-Carotene Explained

Beta-carotene is a naturally occurring plant pigment that is converted into the provitamin A, or retinol. Vitamin A is an essential vitamin that the body uses to help the immune system work better. This then aids in healing wounds and sicknesses.

Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that the body needs to function in its top form. Vitamin A also has anti-inflammatory properties.

Vitamin A and beta-carotene help with eye health by keeping the surface of the eye, or the cornea, moist and healthy. Deficiencies of vitamin A often lead to dry eyes, which can in turn lead to corneal ulcers, clouding of the front of the eye, and vision loss. Beta-carotene can also help to enhance night and peripheral vision.

Beta-carotene is best absorbed into the body through the foods you eat. A balanced diet containing a variety of fruits and vegetables can help to enhance body and eye health and therefore vision.

Foods Containing Beta-Carotene

The best way to get beta-carotene into your body so it can be absorbed and turned into the provitamin A is through a nutritious diet. The following foods contain high levels of beta-carotene and should be included:

  • Carrots
  • Bell peppers
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pumpkin
  • Leafy, green vegetables like kale or spinach

The well-known fact that carrots will help you see in the dark is true — to an extent. While people who suffer from a vitamin A deficiency do struggle with night blindness, just eating a ton of carrots is not likely to make you able to see in the dark.

Vitamin A can help your brain and eyes convert the light that enters them into signals that impact what you see. This can help in low-light situations. In this way, carrots do support night vision.

The idea that extreme amounts of carrots can give you super night vision is partially a myth that was spread as war propaganda during World War II. Carrots, and beta-carotene, can support eye health and vision, but eating a bunch of carrots every day is not likely to do much more than potentially turn your skin yellowish.

Benefits and Cautions

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A diet that contains lean meats, seafood, whole grains, nuts, leafy greens, and whole foods like fruits and vegetables can support physical health and keep your eyes as healthy as possible. The Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS and AREDS 2) that the National Eye Institute (NEI) performed in recent years have shown that a certain combination of vitamins can greatly lower the risk (by as much as 25 percent) of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is one of the leading causes of blindness in the older generation of Americans.

The initial AREDS experimented with beta-carotene directly. It was found that in supplement form, high levels of beta-carotene could actually increase the risk for lung cancer in people who smoke. The second study, AREDS 2, replaced beta-carotene with lutein and zeaxanthin with better results.

As a general rule, it is recommended that beta-carotene be absorbed into the body through diet and balanced nutrition instead of in supplement form.

Americans are unlikely to be deficient in vitamin A as much as underdeveloped countries may be. Vitamin A deficiency can lead to significant vision and eye problems, so it is important to keep up with a healthy diet and eat a wide variety of whole foods. If you are concerned about potential vitamin deficiencies, be sure to talk to your doctor.

Supplements for Eye Health

Taking a multivitamin in addition to a balanced diet can enhance your nutrition and eye health. When it comes to vitamins intended to support eye health, look for those containing the following mixture per the AREDS 2:

  • Vitamin C: 500 mg
  • Vitamin E: 400 IU
  • Zinc: 25 mg
  • Copper: 2 mg
  • Lutein: 10 mg
  • Zeaxanthin: 2 mg

Talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.

References

Beta-Carotene. U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).

Eye Benefits from Vitamin A and Beta-Carotene. (May 2017). All About Vision.

Carrots Improve Your Night Vision: Fact or Propaganda From the RAF? (December 2018). War History Online.

A WWII Propaganda Campaign Popularized the Myth That Carrots Help You See in the Dark. (August 2013). Smithsonian Magazine.

For the Public: What AREDS Means for You. (May 2018). National Eye Institute (NEI).

Nutrition Supplements and Vision. (2019). Prevent Blindness.

Vitamins and Vision Loss. (December 2015). Harvard Health.