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Age-Related Macular Degeneration: Taking Vitamins

Overview

There are many studies being done to look at whether certain vitamin and mineral supplements and combinations of supplements may help prevent age-related macular degeneration (AMD) or delay vision loss in people who already have it.

For example, the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) and AREDS2 were two major research studies done by the U.S. National Eye Institute. AREDS2 found that supplementing your diet with high levels of vitamins C, E, lutein, and zeaxanthin, which are all antioxidants, and the minerals zinc and copper may help slow the progress of advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and delay vision loss if you already have moderate or severe AMD. There is no evidence that the supplements are helpful if you do not have AMD or only have a mild form of the disease.footnote 1

  • The studies showed the largest benefit for people who had already begun to develop AMD (intermediate AMD) in one or both eyes or who had advanced AMD in one eye. In these groups, the risk for advanced AMD or for AMD in the other eye was reduced by about 25%. The chance of vision loss from advanced AMD was reduced by about 20% in those who took vitamin and mineral supplements.
  • Although there may be some benefit from taking the vitamins alone or the zinc alone, the greatest benefit was seen in those who took both.
  • The studies did not find any significant benefit from the supplements in people who had only the early signs of AMD.
  • The studies found that taking the supplements did not help improve vision already lost from AMD.

In a study of male doctors who didn't have AMD, researchers found that taking vitamins E and C for up to 8 years, either alone or in combination, was not likely to affect whether or not a person got early AMD. This finding is consistent with other studies that looked at preventing AMD by using vitamins.footnote 2

If you're interested in taking a vitamin or mineral supplement, talk with your doctor about the risks. For example:

  • Some can have harmful side effects or make certain health problems worse, especially in high doses.
  • People who smoke or who used to smoke should not take beta-carotene. Studies have shown a higher incidence of lung cancer in people who smoke and take beta-carotene.
References

References

Citations

  1. American Academy of Ophthalmology Retina/Vitreous Panel (2015). Age-related macular degeneration. Preferred Practice Pattern Guidelines. San Francisco: American Academy of Ophthalmology. http://www.aao.org/preferred-practice-pattern/age-related-macular-degeneration-ppp-2015. Accessed April 30, 2015.
  2. Christen WG, et al. (2012). Vitamins E and C and medical record-confirmed age-related macular degeneration in a randomized trial of male physicians. Ophthalmology, 119(8): 1642–1649.

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