Age-Related Macular Degeneration & Vitamins

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of vision loss in the United States. According to the National Eye Institute (NEI) more than 2 million Americans have some form of AMD. It is most common in adults over the age of 50. This eye disease can blur central vision, and can cause difficulty with driving, reading, and recognizing faces. As the population in the United States ages, the number of people who have AMD is expected to increase dramatically.

Risk factors for AMD include:

  • Age, race (it is more common among Caucasians), and light-colored eyes
  • Family history of AMD
  • Cardiovascular disease, smoking, and high blood pressure

A clinical illustration showing parts of the eye, highlighting the macula and showing normal, wet and dry macular degeneration.

There are two types of AMD: dry and wet.

The Two Types of AMD:

Dry: In dry AMD the retina’s deterioration is associated with yellow deposits, called drusen, under the macula. This leads to macular thinning and decreased functionality. According to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation, about 90 percent of people who have AMD have the dry form.

Wet: About ten percent of all AMD cases are wet AMD, a condition in which new blood vessels grow under the retina. The new vessels are weak, and leak fluids, lipids and blood. The leakage gets into the layers of the retina and macula, which can cause the normally flat macula to lift up, affecting the functioning of the cells.

If you have been diagnosed with AMD, you will need to see a retina specialist to develop a treatment plan. There is no cure for either wet or dry AMD. Treatments attempt to slow the progression and the amount of damage. Current treatment for wet AMD may include regular eye injections.

Note: The opinions and research presented in this article should not be taken as medical advice. Please talk to both your eye doctor and primary care physician before taking any supplements.

If you have dry AMD, vitamins may slow its progression, according to recent studies. Work with your primary care physician to get a baseline test for vitamins in your bloodstream and then work together to adjust your diet and supplement with vitamins as needed.

Supplements as a Treatment Option for Dry AMD:

The National Eye Institute (NEI), one of the federal government’s National Institutes of Health, sponsored two major clinical studies called the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies, known as AREDS and AREDS2. The AREDS studies were designed to test whether certain vitamins and minerals when combined into a pill could help prevent vision loss from AMD.

Research shows you may help reduce the risk of more significant vision loss by taking supplements that contain:

  • 500 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C
  • 400 international units (IU) of vitamin E
  • 80 mg zinc
  • 10 mg lutein
  • 2 mg copper
  • 2 mg zeaxanthin

Regular daily multivitamins do not have all the ingredients needed to help your eyes if you have AMD.

More information on the first AREDS study can be found here.

The research from the AREDS studies showed that people with dry AMD who took the AREDS supplements slowed the progression of the disease. It is important to note that the supplements will not cure AMD. Speak to your eye care specialist or primary care physician and pharmacist to determine if taking the supplements is right for you.

Where to Find AREDS2 Supplements:

Many drugstores and online retailers carry AREDS2 supplements. Look for the label that says AREDS2. There are many similar supplements, but not the same. It is important to read the labels, though, as some supplements have different ingredients than what is recommended for AMD. AREDS2 supplements have been found to be safe for most people, but they may not be safe for everyone. If you smoke or you used to smoke, it is important to be sure you are taking the AREDS2 supplements, as earlier versions contained beta-carotene and could increase the risk of lung cancer in people who smoke or used to smoke.

Should You Take Nutritional Supplements for AMD?

If you are considering taking supplements to help with your AMD, talk with your eye doctor and primary care doctor to see if it is right for you. They can help you think about the benefits, risks, and potential interactions with other medications you are currently taking. During the appointment, you might discuss:

  • Your likelihood of developing advanced stage AMD.
  • Healthy foods you can eat in addition to the supplements to help with AMD, since supplements are not effective on their own.
  • The risks and benefits of taking nutritional supplements.

The potential interaction between certain foods, vitamins and supplements and your prescribed and over-the-counter medications.

You may wonder if the nutritional vitamins and minerals in the AREDS formulation are possible by changing your diet. It is not likely that the amount of vitamins and minerals can be achieved simply through diet. However, you can adjust your diet to help reduce the risk of macular degeneration and possibly the damage caused by AMD. Meet with a dietitician to discuss your specific needs and diet.

The Mayo Clinic makes the following recommendations in relation to dry AMD and foods to eat:

  • Antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin contribute to eye health and they can be found in fruits and vegetables such as kale, spinach, broccoli, and squash.
  • Food high in zinc may be helpful and we get zinc from high-protein foods such as beef, pork, lamb, milk, cheese, yogurt, whole-grain cereals and whole-wheat bread,
  • Use unsaturated fats in food preparation, such as olive oil.
  • Food high in omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful, such as salmon, tuna and walnuts.

Information from the Mayo Clinic can be found at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dry-macular-degeneration/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350381.

If you want to know about foods rich in a vitamin or mineral, consult the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Information web site at https://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/vitamins-and-minerals.

Want to Keep up on the Most Recent AMD Research?

Make plans to attend the AMD Saving Sight Symposium, Thursday, October 15, 2020 at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison. The symposium serves as a one-stop resource to learn the latest research, treatment options, and information about adaptive products and vision rehabilitation services. The Council is once again partnering with the UW Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and UW Health to provide this biennial event. Mark your calendars so you do not miss it.

 

 

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