Sometimes when I am speaking with patients I feel less like an optometrist and more like I'm on the tv show MythBusters. The only difference is instead of setting up cool and elaborate science experiments to debunk urban myths, I'm delving into medical reference sites, journal articles and history books to find the facts behind the misunderstandings of medicine that have perpetuated throughout the years.
One of the most commonly encountered questions I get asked is if eating more carrots will eliminate the need for glasses. Although carrots are nutritious, consuming more of them will not magically reduce your refractive error or the need for a prescription. And they will not give you super-fantastical visual capabilities either.
I do not fault the public for believing this myth, because it was planted on them on purpose! Yes, the 'carrots and perfect eyesight' myth actually began as a lie, a cover-up if you will, decades ago during World War II.
The Royal Air Force had a pilot, John Cunningham, with an exceptionally good record of shooting down enemy planes at night. They even nicknamed him, “Cat Eyes” and boasted that it was his love of carrots that gave him his super-human night vision. The British government then began a whole campaign about carrots, which was one food in plentiful supply during the war, celebrating their nutritional value and saying that they would help improve your night vision during the blackouts which were frequent in WWII.
In reality, the Royal Air Force was trying to hide the fact that the UK was the first country to successfully employ RADAR (RAdio Detection And Ranging) and that was giving their pilots an edge while shooting down bombers at night. The British theorized that carrots improving the RAF’s night vision would not raise suspicion among the Germans, carrots enhancing the eyes was already a theme in folklore.
This little fib about carrots is over a half a century old but it still sticks in the minds of people today hoping for a quick fix or cure for their blurry vision. While a Vitamin A or carotene deficiency can lead to night vision problems (and high doses of Vitamin A are used to treat the most common form of Retinitis Pigmentosa), there is no benefit to a normal individual consuming an excessive amount of Vitamin A.
And with that I say, "MYTH: BUSTED."
For more yummy facts on carrots and for my references, you can check out the original article on my blog.