Photo courtesy of Marco.

Incorporating nutrition in your eyecare practice is easier than you may think.

The area of nutritional support for visual disorders is a rapidly growing area of eyecare. While conventional medications certainly have their place, many practices choose to integrate nutrition to support their treatments. Here are some key points to consider when implementing supplements in your practice.


Before integrating nutrition in your practice, be aware there are a few general misconceptions regarding vitamins and minerals for patient care.

Supplements are completely safe. While that is mostly true, they can be abused and cause dangerous effects if not taken appropriately.

Supplements are ineffective. The effectiveness of nutrients is much more subtle and long-term than it is with drugs, but they’re effective nevertheless.

Supplements are all the same. The type, form, and amount of each nutrient can make a major difference in how it works.

More is better. Just because a certain amount is effective, it does not mean that 10 times that amount is 10 times more effective.

After diagnosing a patient’s condition, carefully explain the treatment options to them. It would be helpful to assess the patient’s nutrient intake to evaluate any nutrient deficiencies. That sounds like a daunting task and one best left for nutritionists. However, you can get a good sense of basic diet by asking a few general questions:

1. How many servings of fruits and vegetables do you eat on a daily basis?
2. How many times a week do you eat fish (and what kind)?
3. Do you eat baked goods?
4. Do you take a full spectrum multiple vitamin/mineral supplement?
5. Do you limit the portions of food at each meal?

If you find the need to recommend a supplement, provide the patient with education that fully explains the suggested product. If she decides to purchase it right away, have it available to dispense. If she wants to consider it later, simply let the office staff know (via a routing slip) you have discussed this product with the patient. They can again ask the patient if she wishes to make the purchase at the initial visit or at a later time. Either way, the patient knows it is available and something that can assist in her treatment.

Many patients are already taking a “multi-vitamin” supplement, so they may be averse to taking more pills and paying more money. If so, consider an eye-specific formula that includes all the essential nutrients for a healthy body as well. This way, patients will feel they are supporting their overall health as well as their eyes without too much additional expense. See “Supplements At-A-Glance” for examples of these products.

Some patients have difficulty swallowing pills. Liquid and powdered (to mix with water) formulas are available that offer complete nutritional balance. Be mindful that many hard-pressed pills do not break down in the digestive system. Remember, the older we get, the less efficiently we process and metabolize our food.

And of course there are patients who feel they get all the nutrients they need from their diet. In this case, ask if they feel they eat the “perfect diet;” unlikely anyone will think they do. Even those who eat very well might be eating food either laden with chemicals or foods chemically ripened.

In addition, make sure when you are considering which supplements to offer in your practice to review products from companies that have a valid scientific rationale available for anyone to review as well as a Web site that puts science first before price and marketing.

While we are not biochemists or nutritionists, optometrists should learn some of the basics of nutrition to make informed decisions about what to recommend to patients. If we don’t, someone else will.

Jeffrey Anshel is president of the Ocular Nutrition Society and practices at Poinsettia Vision Center in Carlsbad, CA.


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