12th Oct, 2018

AREDS and macular degeneration: should you take eye-protecting vitamins?

macular degeneration San Diego

AREDS and macular degeneration: should you take eye-protecting vitamins?

Nearly all of our patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) are interested in doing whatever they can to help save their sight. Some have heard of a study called AREDS (Age-Related Eye Diseases Study), which looked at the use of vitamin supplements in patients with AMD. This study found a significant effect from the use of supplements, and a follow-up study (known as AREDS2) further refined the formula. What does AREDS mean for you? Should you consider taking a similar supplement?

What was in the AREDS vitamins?

The original design of the supplements was based on research on individual vitamins, which had been shown to have an effect on AMD. The original formula included:

  • Vitamin C: 500 mg
  • Vitamin E: 400 IU
  • Beta-carotene: 15 mg
  • Zinc: 80 mg
  • Copper: 2 mg

For AREDS2, the new formula contained:

  • Vitamin C: 500 mg
  • Vitamin E: 400 IU
  • Lutein: 10 mg
  • Zeaxanthin: 2 mg
  • Zinc: 25 mg
  • Copper: 2 mg
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: 1000 mg (650 mg EPA and 350 mg DHA)

The beta-carotene was removed in the second trial, because other research had indicated that there was a higher rate of lung cancer in smokers who took beta-carotene. Lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidants, with a similar function to beta-carotene, and so researchers hoped that replacing the beta-carotene with lutein and zeaxanthin would provide the same benefit but without the additional lung cancer risk.

Did the AREDS supplements work?

The short answer is yes, they worked. The patients in the study had intermediate AMD, and the study looked at whether or not they progressed to advanced AMD. Those who took the supplements had a 25% lower risk of progressing to advanced disease within the five years of the study. This is a significant effect, but it’s also important to note the limitations; not every patient who took these supplements was able to avoid AMD.

Can I just take a multivitamin, or make dietary changes?

Many of the nutrients in the AREDS supplements are also contained in multivitamins, but usually in smaller amounts. In fact, many of the participants in the study were also taking a multivitamin, which they were not required to stop during the trial. Adding the AREDS supplement provided an additional benefit, beyond what the multivitamin offered. Thus, even if you do take a multivitamin, this won’t necessarily offer you the same benefits as taking AREDS supplements.

Similarly, the levels of nutrients that were included in the supplements are far higher than that which can be obtained from food. It’s true that people who frequently eat foods high in some of these nutrients (such as green leafy vegetables) have a lower risk of developing AMD, so it’s certainly reasonable to include these foods as part of your diet in order to promote eye health. However, if you’re hoping to avoid progression of AMD, you won’t be able to get enough from diet to simulate the AREDS supplements.

Are there any risks to taking these supplements?

Although there seems to be a popular idea now that “natural” things such as vitamins are safe, the truth is that taking any pill can come with risks and side effects. The association between beta-carotene and lung cancer should concern anyone who smokes, or who has stopped smoking within the last year; such people should consider taking the version without beta-carotene. There has also been a possible link between vitamin E supplements and prostate cancer, although this has not been consistent in studies and not enough is known about this possible link to be definitive.

Supplements in high doses can also interact with prescription medications. There are few people who make it to older ages without any prescriptions. Before you start taking supplements, we strongly recommend that you talk to your doctor, especially if you’re also taking any prescriptions or any other supplements.

Treatment for macular degeneration San Diego, CA

We offer treatment for patients who have AMD in the San Diego area. Although it’s not generally possible to restore vision that has been lost, treatment can stop or slow the progression of the disease and prevent further vision loss. If you’re at high risk for AMD or have been diagnosed with this condition, please make sure that you visit an expert as soon as possible. Prompt action could help to save your sight.

Posted on October 12, 2018 By , in

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Dr. P.