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Vitamins for Macular Degeneration

February 24, 2009 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease that is one of the leading causes of vision loss in people over the age of 60. AMD causes progressive damage to the macula (the center of the retina), which in turn severely affects central vision. As its name implies, age is a contributing factor to the development of this form of MD. But, in recent years, evidence has accumulated to suggest that the targeted use of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and phytochemicals (plant chemicals) can help protect against the “normal” progression of this condition.

Macular Degeneration

B-Wise with Your Eyes

A recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine provides promising information about the role of B-vitamins in eye health. In particular, three B-vitamins were evaluated: Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12 and Folic Acid.

The trial, based at Harvard Medical School, involved more than 5,400 women over the age of 40. At the beginning of the study, none of them showed signs of AMD. Half of the women were asked to take daily dosages of 50 mg of Vitamin B6, 1 mg of B12 and 2.5 mg of Folic Acid. The other half of the women were given a placebo (an inactive “dummy” pill).

The female participants were followed over the course of seven years. During that time, 137 cases of AMD were diagnosed. 70 of of those cases were classified as causing “significant vision loss”.  These findings weren’t  a surprise to the researchers. What was unexpected was that the occurrence of AMD was almost 35% lower in the women taking the B-vitamins. In the women with significant vision loss (indicating a more aggressive form of AMD), there was a 41% reduction in risk found in the B-vitamin group.

The authors of the study estimate that the benefits began to demonstrate themselves after about two years of continuous use. They went on to say that, “The trial findings … are the strongest evidence to date in support of a possible beneficial effect of folic acid and B vitamin supplements in AMD prevention.” They added that, “Because there are currently no recognized means to prevent the early stages of AMD development other than avoidance of cigarette smoking, these findings could have important clinical and public health implications and need to be confirmed in other populations of men and women.”

AMD Vision Loss

Based on this research, B-vitamins can now be added to the list of known eye protective supplements. A recent review in the journal Current Opinion in Opthalmology lists several other therapeutic supplements for AMD. That list includes the following:

  • Vitamins C, E and Beta Carotene (pro-vitamin A). Beta carotene is the substance that gives carrots and other fruits and vegetables their color. The body can convert Beta Carotene to Vitamin A.
  • The minerals Copper and Zinc.
  • Carotenoids (plant pigments), such as Lutein and Zeaxanthin. These are similar to Beta Carotene, in that they provide many of the vivid colors in produce, but the body does not convert it into essential nutrients.
  • Essential fatty acids, such as those found in Fish Oil.

The Harvard study was the first of its kind and it focused exclusively on middle-aged women. These are obvious limitations that require this evidence to be classified as preliminary. Having said that, if you are at risk for AMD, you may want to consider this new information. It may just help you to preserve one of your most valuable senses.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!


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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Nutrition, Nutritional Supplements

One Comment to “Vitamins for Macular Degeneration”

  1. JP Says:

    Updated 11/06/15:


    JAMA Ophthalmol. 2015 Oct 8:1-10.

    Intakes of Lutein, Zeaxanthin, and Other Carotenoids and Age-Related Macular Degeneration During 2 Decades of Prospective Follow-up.

    Importance: Despite strong biological plausibility, evidence from epidemiologic studies and clinical trials on the relations between intakes of lutein and zeaxanthin and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) has been inconsistent. The roles of other carotenoids are less thoroughly investigated.

    Objective: To investigate the associations between intakes of carotenoids and AMD.

    Design, Setting, and Participants: Prospective cohort study, with cohorts from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study in the United States. A total of 63 443 women and 38 603 men were followed up, from 1984 until May 31, 2010, in the Nurses’ Health Study and from 1986 until January 31, 2010, in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. All participants were aged 50 years or older and were free of diagnosed AMD, diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, and cancer at baseline.

    Main Outcomes and Measures: Predicted plasma carotenoid scores were computed directly from food intake, assessed by repeated food frequency questionnaires at baseline and follow-up, using validated regression models to account for bioavailability and reporting validity of different foods, and associations between predicted plasma carotenoid scores and AMD were determined.

    Results: We confirmed 1361 incident intermediate and 1118 advanced AMD cases (primarily neovascular AMD) with a visual acuity of 20/30 or worse by medical record review. Comparing extreme quintiles of predicted plasma lutein/zeaxanthin score, we found a risk reduction for advanced AMD of about 40% in both women and men (pooled relative risk comparing extreme quintiles = 0.59; 95% CI, 0.48-0.73; P for trend < .001). Predicted plasma carotenoid scores for other carotenoids, including β-cryptoxanthin, α-carotene, and β-carotene, were associated with a 25% to 35% lower risk of advanced AMD when comparing extreme quintiles. The relative risk comparing extreme quintiles for the predicted plasma total carotenoid index was 0.65 (95% CI, 0.53-0.80; P for trend < .001). We did not identify any associations of carotenoids, either as predicted plasma score or calculated intake, with intermediate AMD. Conclusions and Relevance: Higher intake of bioavailable lutein/zeaxanthin is associated with a long-term reduced risk of advanced AMD. Given that some other carotenoids are also associated with a lower risk, a public health strategy aimed at increasing dietary consumption of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids may reduce the incidence of advanced AMD. Be well! JP

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